Yesterday some peeps who matter to me lost a brother and a son and an uncle and so on, in a car accident. They are such decent and good people, and there’s nothing I can do for them except to keep on keeping on. It’s a senseless and untimely death, but for that matter, what death isn’t?
I find that it’s easy, in the face of death, to forget about the silliness and joys of the world, or worse yet, to decide they need to be set aside for a time so that one can devote one’s full energy to, well, suffering. Sometimes grief is so utterly overwhelming you have no choice but to give in to it.
The horrible reality of life is that it’s full of death. And yet here we are, bearing children who are destined to die, and even making the best of it. We live on both sides of it all.
Last week Nick asked me, “Mommy, when I die will I not be real anymore?” It was a gut-punch. I had to catch my breath and dig deep to stop the tears, and I wasn’t even sure why they wanted to come. I answered best I could. You will always be real, forever, no matter what happens to your body, or this world, or this galaxy, or this universe, no matter what else is real and what is myth. The dinosaurs died 60 or 70 million years ago. Most of them returned to stardust long ago. But they’re still real, as real as the mountains we climb and the lakes we swim in, and they’re still shaping our world.
To myself I added, you’ll always be real to me, as real as the extraordinary love and pain and guilt I feel right now, feelings that are bound together in a strange dance as I watch my children awaken to mortality and suffering, as they learn to live on both sides of this journey we’re all on.
Jesse once sat on the can taking a dump, pondering death and heaven. I don’t recall her words exactly, but she put two ideas together as she bore down:
Mommy, you always say that a piece of your daddy is in your heart, even though he’s dead.
That’s right, I answered. He’s always with me.
She continued. My friend at school says when you die, she believes you go to heaven.
That’s right, I replied, a lot of people believe that.
Then, said my beautiful, magical little child, since your daddy is in your heart, it’s like heaven is in your heart.
Right. That’s where I think the people we care about stay, after they die — right here with us, despite all the mistakes, the failures, the fights and regrets, and despite all the love.