“Shouldn’t we make a card for her when she rises again?”
My 5-year-old son took another bite of his meatloaf and waited for my answer while his 3-year-old sister continued to put mashed potatoes in her hair for fun.
Across the table from me, my 7-year-old daughter halted the fork before she took her next bite. Her sensitive, empathic, and inquisitive soul waited patiently for my answer, while my husband gave me the “this is all you” look.
I silently speed-prayed for God to help me find the right words in such a sensitive moment.
I knew there would be questions after we gently told them at the dinner table that people we love very much lost someone close to them. We would be attending the funeral together, and I wanted to begin the conversation.
The kids were too young to really understand a couple of years ago when my husband’s grandmother passed away. While they went to the funeral home and were a little subdued when they saw the casket, they didn’t analyze or ask questions and simply wanted to go back and find their cousins in the snack room.
But, at that table, I knew we were in new parenting territory . . . and my son’s question both touched me and broke my heart.
He had taken special interest in Easter earlier this year and seemed fascinated by the whole thing. Every time he came home from preschool, he talked to me about Jesus rising, about how he beat the bad guys and still lived, and how Jesus’ mommy was so happy that he didn’t die.
So naturally, why wouldn’t a 5-year-old’s mind believe if someone died, that they, too, would rise again?
Before I could get the words out, my oldest daughter stepped in.
“Buddy,” she said, “only Jesus had that special power. When people die, they rise to Heaven to be with Him. And then they become angels who watch over us.”
She looked at me and smiled as if she knew I would be proud that she had paid attention to our conversations over the last couple of years.
As a kid who sometimes gets scared of the dark or anxious in certain moments, I’ve talked to her about angels. I shared when I get scared or nervous, I remind myself that Jesus and my angels are with me, and it helps me feel calm and protected.
I told her stories about my own grandparents who I feel with me all of the time, and about the dear friend who died just hours after I was with him when I was 17 who— even 20 years later—reminds me he’s still here with me. I told her how hard it was to feel the hurt of them leaving but how beautiful it was that they were with Jesus and could watch over me, too.
She heard all of it.
And my son heard her answer to his question, too and seemed to accept it. He took his last bite and asked if it was OK if he left the table to go play a video game—his mashed-potato-head little sister sprinting right behind. My angel-story-delivering daughter slowly got out of her seat, came and gave me a hug, and jumped and twirled her way to join them.
I sat there for a second to process the moment.
I was introduced to death over and over before I even turned 20.
I remember my parents calling to tell us they were coming home from California because my grandpa suffered a heart attack. I remember the priest pulling us out of mass to tell us my grandma had lost her battle with brain cancer. I remember getting the call in the morning that my 17-year-old friend—who I had just hugged hours prior—was in a car accident and didn’t make it. I remember standing next to my grandpa’s hospital bed when it was my turn to say my final goodbyes when we knew he wasn’t going to make it through his stroke. I remember hearing my grandmother’s voice over the phone as she told me how proud she was of me—a voice I now know KNEW that it was her time, too. A month later, another phone call to my college dorm that another high school classmate had gone to Heaven.
And those are just a few. I have taken too many phone calls in my life with a voice on the other end telling me someone had gone too soon or without warning.
Those moments don’t leave you no matter how old you are or how close you were to the person.
And while I wish I could shield my kids from grief in their life, I know it will inevitably be a part of it. And I know we will navigate it all together.
Me. Them. Jesus. And the angels in Heaven . . .
We’ll all put our hearts together and help them navigate it. And I pray it makes them see the value in life, the pointlessness of grudges, the beauty in perspective, the appreciation for the moment, and the value of prayer . . .
The way it has for me.