Monday, November 17, 2008

Will you still need me, will you still feed me?

Last night I made my son two reckless promises: That he would not die until he is a hundred years old, and that when he did, I'd still be with him.

We were listening to a Classical Kids CD called Mr. Bach Comes to Call, in which the ghost of Johann S. appears to a little girl who is begrudgingly practicing the piano. She is soon won over by the jolly old man and his tales of a busy, happy, music-filled life. At the end of the disc Bach mentions a composition that he was unable to finish, because "everyone has to die sometime."

We've played this CD probably a hundred times, but last night Opie stopped to think about that line. His face grew fearful. His voice quivered as he asked if that meant he would die. "Yes," I told him, but not for a very very very long time, when he was a very very very old man. "How old?" he pressed, and that's when I told him a hundred years (the biggest number I thought he could grasp--as it turns out, he didn't, and I had to count almost all the way from 3 to 100 to show just how far that was).

Still he wasn't satisfied, and his voice continued to teeter on the brink of tears. "But when I die, you won't be there."

"I will," I said, tears sliding down my own cheeks. "I will always be with you." Because I will, I thought. In Heaven, in memory, in some little sliver of DNA, one way or another. Unwilling and unable to explain all that, I defaulted to the simple lie. And then I perpetuated it by promising that Daddy would be there too, and Jo, and even our dog.

I know I'll break a lot of the promises I make my children, intentionally and not. I just wasn't quite prepared to discuss one of the universe's greatest unknowns right there in the dark, at 9 p.m. after a full day of solo parenting. (And you better believe I was the one who stayed awake staring at the ceiling when it was my turn to go to bed.)

25 comments:

GHD said...

What a sweet moment, MM!

mothergoosemouse said...

Oh, those conversations we can't fathom, and those thoughts we can't bear.

Not reckless, I say. Comforting, and right on the three year old level.

Kimberly said...

Oh those conversations are so tough. I think you handled perfectly for a child his age.

Very sweet post.

beth - total mom haircut said...

I think you did the right thing. It sounds like a really nice moment, actually. There is little reason to perpetuate that kind of anxiety when it's something they can't fully understand. Let him sleep well tonight, you know?

Suzanne said...

Oh, that conversation just makes me want to weep. We've had similar ones, and I hope I handled it with as much grace as you!

Heather said...

It's so difficult to comprehend. Even as an adult, I want my mom to reassure me she'll always be here.

BlondeMomBlog (Jamie) said...

I've had this type conversation when Miss C was a bit younger (she told me she didn't want me to be a grandma some day because that meant I would be old and I would die) and it was so tough to find the right words to say to her. I wanted to be honest, but I also was truly aware of the power and impression left by my words.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

The day I realized I would die was the most traumatic day of my life. I was 7. Tell you what: I wish my mom had lied to me then! I might have slept better for a few more years.

jen said...

um, ok. this is weird. sorta like you were in my head. or i was in yours. or something.

i get this.

Catizhere said...

Maggie is obsessed with death lately. When will I die? When will you & Daddy die? Who will cut my sandwiches?
I think you handled it beautifully.

Hip Mom's Guide said...

Mayberry, this breaks my heart. He's getting big enough to think about the future--think of that! Isn't it amazing?

On a lighter note, I nominated you for an award today. You can pop over & see it whenever you get a chance. Have a great day.

Binkytown said...

Oh sweet Opie. I would have cried too. Lying was clearly the only option.

Julie Pippert said...

Oh it's a hard moment. But you beautifully managed it.

Leslie said...

What a lovely, heartbreaking moment and post. Tears all around.
I would have made the same promise, told the same little big lie, to comfort my child (and myself). Kids can't help wondering (and asking) about those big mysteries we're afraid to confront.

Magpie said...

You did right. I think.

God, it's hard, this stuff.

rightonmom said...

Just found your blog. And I must say I thought that was quite touching. I always pray all my kids will outlive me.

mamatulip said...

This post nearly had tears sliding down my own cheeks, my dear.

the mama bird diaries said...

Yes, I would have done the same thing.

Lady M said...

Wow. That was an unexpected direction for a Bach story! You said exactly the right things.

TC said...

We went through the same then when now-11-year-old Em was quite young, and I developed a mantra for it: I would tell her that most people die when they are "very, very old and very, very sick" and that I/her dad wouldn't die "as long as you really need us."

Those conversations are always heartbreaking, isn't it?

julie @ the calm before the stork said...

Ohhhhhhhhhhh!

Patois said...

Damn, now I have to go to sleep and stare at my ceiling. It's something I try my darnedest to keep at bay, but the fear of them being without me...shivers.

Kate said...

Oh my god. This just about made me cry. These are tough conversations.. I've had them, too. You handled it well.

Mrs. Chicken said...

We have this conversation often, b/c The Poo realized that my father is dead.

We tell her that no matter what, no matter where, we will always be in one another's hearts. It seems to satisfy her.

And we will be. Always and forever, into eternity.

These are hard talks to have.

Rachel said...

Sorry that the cd we gave you prompted such a major life-altering question!