My seven year old figured out what a graveyard is the other day. It’s the same graveyard we’ve driven past a million times, on the way to Stop & Shop, but this was the first time he’d actually taken notice.
“Mom, what are those stones?”
We were at a red light. I’m always least prepared for these life questions, now as I’m going over in my head what I need from the store, having again forgotten my shopping list.
“Are there dead people there?” He answered, before I had to.
“Yes, Hon.” Seemed like a very long red light.
“So… there are bodies there? Under the stones?”
Ah. Green light. “Yes, Hon…” I said way too vaguely, making my turn, pretending some distraction as I figured out what to say next – I already knew my son was very afraid of dying. As afraid as he was of throwing up. Maybe the reason I'd never before pointed out a graveyard.
“I don’t want to ever die…” he said. “Are YOU going to die?”
God bless his younger brother (six!) who then piped up, “Everyone DIES, Ryan," Kenny said, happily tossing a tennis ball against the roof of the car. "But then you just come back and are alive all over again. And that just keeps going on again and again…”
I was speechless, and that’s fine, since they seemed to be working out this issue between them. Giving me a minute’s space to figure out how my six year old had been able to come to his own conclusion about death. Perhaps it had something to do with whatever he was learning in Sunday school, about resurrection, though I hadn’t broached that subject with them yet, either.
In any case, this answer seemed to sit well with his older brother, and by then we were pulling into the Stop & Shop parking lot, and I was reminding them of the usual, that coming shopping with me did not mean I would be throwing any extras into the cart. For this moment at least, I had a reprieve, time to think up some kind of answer to these HUGE life questions – or at least how to better figure out answers on the spur of the moment, in the car, over Cheerios, or in the bath just last night, when Kenny wanted to know which was the hottest planet. Well, not exactly a "life" question, just another rather large, perhaps obvious, one that I couldn’t answer. ( Though I did remember that Pluto must be the coldest as it is the farthest from the sun . . . .) When I became a mother, did I ever think I could wind up so dumbfounded in front of my own children?
Pushing the shopping cart around the store, Ryan was unusually quiet, and my heart ached for him; he was mulling over a truth he was just beginning to figure out, and I realized there wasn’t really an answer I could have given him about dying much more comforting or truthful than the one his brother gave. Because whatever truth there is about an afterlife or a resurrection or whatever, no other truth can soften the reality that one day, sooner or later, our earthly life, with all its tactile joys, will have to end.
So maybe winding up dumbfounded as a mother isn’t so awful. Maybe some of these answers our children can only figure out for themselves, on their own terms, while quietly pushing a shopping cart around a grocery store.