June 30, 2009

Dear God, it’s me Matthew

About a month ago, as the kids and I were driving in the car, we noticed a very long funeral procession traversing along the local freeway. It was a quiet Saturday morning and the sight of at least 50 to 75 cars following each other in a single file line was unmistakable. The fact that there were four motorcycle cops rushing up to the nearest onramps and shutting down traffic to allow the procession to proceed only added to the sight.

Of course it wasn’t long before I heard a little voice from my inquisitive little boy (who, by law, is mandated to ask more questions each day than a week’s worth of Jeopardy) piped up from the back seat. “What are those caws doing, Daddy? Where are those caawwws going?”

Think fast old man! Where are they going? A baseball game? The beach? The local carwash? I couldn’t think of a suitable answer. My mind raced and as he waited for an answer I could feel the anxiety rising in my chest. Finally, after reaching a point where hyperventilating was a real possibility I seized upon an idea that was so far out there that I couldn’t believe I would even consider such a response. But I was desperate. So I took a deep breath and…

I told the truth.

“Monkey, someone in that black car in front of us died. They are taking that person to the cemetery so that all those people in the cars behind us can come and celebrate that person’s life.”

TheMonk, I could tell, was digesting this information. I could tell there was going to be a follow-up question. There always is. So I braced for the worst and squinted from the reality of the situation as he uttered his next question… “Well, what are the motorcycles doing?”

Motorcycles?! Oh praise the Lord! I could DO motorcycles. We spent the rest of the drive talking all about motorcycles. Not dead people. Motorcycles. I have never been so glad to discuss why some motorcycles are loud and some are quiet. I had survived!

Fast forward to this evening. We are driving along the same stretch of road that we had driven on a month prior when we witnessed that funeral procession. I was lost in thought as we cruised down the freeway with Jason Mraz providing background music. (It’s all about the Wordplay, apparently)

Suddenly, from out of the blue, TheMonk speaks up from the back. “Daddy, why did that man in the back of the car die?”

*Sigh* This time, I went straight for the truth. It worked so well last time and as I formulated my response, I began scanning the road for a motorcycle to distract us.

“Well, Buddy, just like babies are born every day, people die every day. It just happens. It’s sad when we know the person who dies because we can’t see them anymore but it’s okay that people die.”

I pause and wait for his follow-up. And when it comes, it’s a doozy.

“Daddy, what happens when someone dies. Do they ever wake up?”

As my body temperature rises, I experience a heat flash and I can’t find a Goddamned motorcycle ANYWHERE! So I take another deep breath and say…

“Buddy, when someone dies they aren’t sleeping. When someone dies they leave their body and, if they’ve been good, they go to heaven.”

Oh, shit. Why did I bring up heaven? Did I really want to go there? Maybe he didn’t hear that part.

But TheMonk heard it. “If they’ve been good they go to heaven? What’s heaven?”

“Heaven is a place where we go after we die. It is in the sky and it’s where God lives and it’s a wonderful place. But you have to be good to go there. That means you have to tell the truth, be nice to others and don’t hit people.”

Now the words are just barfing out of my mouth and I can’t control it. I know that I am sliding head first down that slippery slope and the bottom will not be pretty. And there is still not one damn motorcycle anywhere to be seen.

TheMonk, smelling blood in the water, follows up again. “You mean, if I hit, I won’t go to heaven?” He quickly mentions two younger daycare friends who, as fate would have it, are dead smack in the middle of their hitting phase. “Victoria and Jayse like to hit. They are not being nice.”

And then, a little girl voice pops up from the back seat for the first time since we started this conversation. In a matter of fact voice that is dripping in sad resignation, Swee’Pea declares…

“Yep. Victoria and Jayse aren’t going to heaven.”

*sob* I so suck at this.


  1. The good news you can hang out with Victoria and Jayse in the after life.

    Comment by Ben — June 30, 2009 @ 11:11 pm

  2. At least it was a stranger. When my oldest was almost 4, his great-grandma died. A few weeks ago, the other great-grandma died. My second is almost 4. *sigh* It’s hard trying to explain it. You didn’t do *too* badly for a first attempt. Guarantee it’ll come up again, though.

    Comment by Lisa — July 1, 2009 @ 12:45 am

  3. We all suck at this sometimes.

    My boys’ middle names are my grandfathers’ name. Grandpa J is dying of cancer and ended up in the hospital again over the weekend. We’re flying down there this weekend to visit, and of course, the boys decided this week would be a great time to talk about middle names and why they have those middle names.

    First I had to explain Alex’s middle name was from J, who we can’t see because he is sick and in the hospital. Then I had to explain Nate’s middle name was from R, who died from cancer. I could have said we picked the names because we liked them but it doesn’t seem fair to the boys to be dishonest.

    Crap, this was a pretty sad comment. I should have just stopped when I said we all suck at this sometimes.

    Comment by LauraC — July 1, 2009 @ 5:53 am

  4. We also have to recall that our kiddos — at such a young age — aren’t fully processing all of the complexity that we know is embedded in discussions of “death” and “Heaven” (et al).

    As long as they random pieces fit into some sort of hodge-podge story based on honest effort, they’ll be fine. Or turn out mildly screwed up like their parents who are still trying to grasp the complexities of “death” and “Heaven” (et al). T

    hat being said, did that motorcycle ever show up? You might want to buy one just to use as a shiny distraction toy for future life Q’s that escape the barn.

    Comment by Beckett's/Berkeley's Papa (aka Christian) — July 1, 2009 @ 8:26 am

  5. kids remember everything , so it’s good that you told the truth. I struggled with this with my oldest, but soon realized as hard and embarassing as some things may be to explain…they will appreciate your honesty.

    After much back and forth about death and feeling like I was confusing the hell out of my kid. I bought the Book when Dinosaurs Die. It might help next time the question comes up?

    Comment by melissa — July 1, 2009 @ 8:33 am

  6. Yup, we walked this path when the Webmaster’s grandmother died 19 months ago. We had already explained to Ane that Great-Grandma had gone to heaven, and then deliberately kept her away from the viewing. So far, so good. Then we go to the burial (the Webmaster was a pallbearer), which was all of twenty feet from the funeral home, and Ane keeps asking – loudly – what’s in the box and can we open it. *sigh*

    Comment by Deanna — July 1, 2009 @ 8:36 am

  7. Well, you had it until the “who gets to go to heaven” part. Now you’ll have to explain the different worldviews/religious beliefs about confession (i.e. “owning up”) and redemption! If I were you, I’d sign up for an online World Religions class to bone up for future discussions! Please oh please keep us posted!

    Comment by Aina — July 1, 2009 @ 9:04 am

  8. My kids’ grandmother died last year. I agree, talking about it is tough — but I like your straightforward presentation of the truth. If all else fails, tell the truth!

    Our cat had died the previous summer so they already had some experience with death. Then, their grandmother had been sick for a while (cancer), and my kids were greatly comforted by the fact that she had said that she was looking forward to seeing her mother and father again in heaven. This made for many great discussions about, yes, religion — and why people die.

    You are smart to talk about this before someone close to them dies. Every little bit of preparation helps. And, you REALLY don’t suck at this. Good Stuff!

    Comment by Kathryn — July 1, 2009 @ 9:36 am

  9. You forgot to tell them if they are “sorry” they can get into heaven.

    It’s not too early to inquire about catechism classes.

    Comment by Grandmother — July 1, 2009 @ 9:39 am

  10. THAT will go over well at daycare for sure. Especially with Victoria and Jayse’s parents :-)

    Comment by samantha jo campen — July 1, 2009 @ 10:36 am

  11. I hate to break it to you, but you’ve only just begun to answer awkward questions about death – it gets worse. I had to have the death talk when my oldest was 3.5 and my mom passed away. Since then I have had to answer various questions about death and Heaven. And as he has gotten older, the questions are more complex: How to people get to Heaven? Do they take a plane? Is Heaven above space? What do people eat in Heaven? Do people wear clothes in Heaven? Are there people buried in our backyard? This week has been especially bad with all of the celebrity deaths – the latest question: Why did Michael Jackson die first if all of his brothers are older than him? You should take comfort in the fact that we all suck at this discussion.

    Comment by Lori — July 1, 2009 @ 11:18 am

  12. Yep, it’s never easy and, as we all know, there’s no manual. Darn it.

    Honesty is the best policy though. But sometimes even that is a “two steps forward, one step back” kinda dance.

    Comment by Kate — July 1, 2009 @ 2:19 pm

  13. I loved this post! : ) I have three teens ….. it gets so much worse.

    Comment by Twenty Four At Heart — July 1, 2009 @ 9:16 pm

  14. So sorry but this was all hilarious to me. Like laugh out loud, oh crap did I just wake the kids up, hilarious. Now because I said that karma will rear it’s ugly head and my kids will bring up life and death. Oh but it was worth the laugh.

    Comment by Tammie — July 1, 2009 @ 11:05 pm

  15. No great words of wisdom from me…but thank you for a good laugh.

    Comment by Kirsten — July 2, 2009 @ 3:57 am

  16. lol…I think you did a pretty good job answering all his questions…they sure do test us don’t they?! Love the title too :)

    Comment by Tanya — July 2, 2009 @ 5:36 am

  17. We went through this exact same conversation when my mom died last October. Mine are 5 and 3 and they are BOTH still asking 1,000 questions.

    My favorite is how every time we pass an ambulance, my 3 year old asks if Nana is still dead in the back of it.
    Good times, gooooood times.

    Comment by Amo — July 2, 2009 @ 6:21 am

  18. Hey Matt, I know how you feel. I have that same panicky feeling every time death could become a topic of conversation. My daughter is 4 and has recently started talking about “oh he’s dead” when she’s playing with her little people. It’s all those damn Disney movies they show at school when it rains. And we’ve had a lot of rain lately. /sigh/

    I’ve not had to have the detailed conversation yet, but I’m preparing for it. Ugh and Ugh.

    Comment by Val — July 2, 2009 @ 10:20 am

  19. Dude, you couldn’t have just said, oh looks son, did you see that motorcycle? Shit man, we have got to talk about this honesty crap. ;)

    Comment by Issa — July 2, 2009 @ 7:51 pm

  20. Your hilarious, enough said :-)

    Comment by Kami — July 2, 2009 @ 8:45 pm

  21. Just you wait until they ask how babies get in Mommy’s tummy!

    Comment by Aunt Raina — July 2, 2009 @ 9:26 pm

  22. I don’t think you suck at this. :) I think honesty is always best. It works itself out in the end. I don’t have kids, but I remember discussing the concept of “before you were born” with my little sister (11 years younger than me). I was telling her about something before she was born, and she was very bothered by that. “Well where was I?” “You weren’t born yet” “But.. who took care of me?” and on and on and on. LOL

    Comment by Kellee — July 3, 2009 @ 11:03 am

  23. You shouldn’t let this stuff stress you out (unless that is you aren’t sure about you’re own beliefs about death, etc). Young kids are very accepting of information. Just tell them how it is in basic terms and you’re good to go. My 4 yr old and I recently had to wait for a funeral procession and I pointed out to her what was happening, thinknig it was a perfect way to pass our time waiting. I love explaining stuff to her because she always has such interesting questions and totally unique observations that make me see the world in a whole new way.

    Now when they get older and think their friends know more than you and can act on info you’re giving them – that’s when you should stress out! Enjoy the preschool years when they’ll accept whatever you say without argument or even much surprise, no matter the topic.

    Comment by Ginger — July 3, 2009 @ 5:21 pm

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