Archives for posts with tag: death


Tonight during prayers, Boy asked that his grandfather not die, ever. “That’s so nice,” I sighed, before going on, in the heartless way that parenting sometimes seems to require,  to say that everyone dies, and that if we didn’t, there wouldn’t be enough room for everyone. Boy acknowledged that we’d have to build more houses, if that were the case. True.

“When we die, does God fix us?” Boy went on to ask. I waited.

“Does God put us back together?” Theological questions seem to be a specialty of preschool-aged children.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Does He put us back together so He can send us back here?” he gestured with his hands, encompassing the bed, the room, our family, our town, life as he knows it.

I talked to him about dust and living soul and how the living soul part is what remains, the part that makes Boy Boy. I added that if I’d had another life here, I didn’t know it (I asked if he had lived another life, and he said no, too), and I talked about how our souls will, as Boy puts it, “go to God” after we die.

These are the kinds of moments that catch me off guard. Much like childbirth classes can do little to prepare you for the reality of having a baby at home all day, every day, reading books about child development (expect them to grow so many inches! they should sleep so many hours! they should be able to pick up small objects with their toes while their hands are tied behind their backs!) do little to prepare you for the reality of your developing child. To be fair, how could we anticipate the questions, explicit or implicit, that children have about their world, both the now and the hereafter? (“But I can’t see God!” Boy said earlier, looking around in the darkness. “If we have living soul in all of us, God is in all of us,” I told him.) How should we answer these questions? What did I leave out? Was there something deeper than I should have asked but didn’t?

Seemingly satisfied, Boy settled down and went to sleep. If the questions weighed heavily on him, his slow breathing didn’t show it. I could return to worrying about daily matters, like laundry and dishes and scattered toys – but suddenly, that all seemed much less important.






Our trip to the library yesterday has replenished our stock  – yes, we have lots (and I do mean LOTS!) of books at home, but new books are always welcome anyhow. Mrs. Katz and Tush, by Patricia Polacco, is one of them.

Mrs. Katz and Tush

While I was preparing food for a new mama with Baby Boy asleep on my chest in the Ergo, Matthew read to Baby Girl. In the book, Larnel, an African-American boy, gets his neighbor Mrs. Katz, a childless, elderly Jewish immigrant from Poland, to take in a homeless kitten by agreeing to help her care for it. A friendship burgeons and blossoms, and Larnel learns how similar their pasts are, full of oppression but of love, too. It’s educational and informative but isn’t preachy. It’s touching without being maudlin, in spite of what could seem like a contrived relationship. For the record, it does not come off that way – it is as genuine and believable as any relationship one might have with a neighbor. (I had a neighbor Grandma Grace as a little girl…maybe some of you had someone, too?)

Spoiler alert!

When her cat, Tush, about whom she often adds, “Such a person!” has kittens, she says she’s finally a bubee – a grandmother.

The story end in the way a story about a grandmother figure often does:

“As the years passed, Mrs. Katz, Tush, and her descendants became part of Larnel’s family.
There were graduations, weddings, new babies, and finally a kaddish.

Larnel stood in front of the headstone.
He read from her book.
He placed a small rock on top of her headstone.
Then he, his wife, and their children read the inscription together.

Matthew paused on many pages, as it’s the kind of book that gives you a bit of a punch in the gut. He didn’t read the final page aloud, either.

After this, Baby Girl needed to go potty. As she headed off, he told me how, when they went to Mrs. Katz’s husband’s grave, Baby Girl said, “We will die. But it will not be for a long time.” He then had me read the last page, which I hadn’t heard. We teared up over the nature of life, the nature of death – they’re sort of a package deal.

From the potty, we heard, “Daddy, I peed out! Daddy, my pee got on the floor!”

Thank God for children. They’ll have you crying in your soup one minute and laughing the next. Sometimes, you’re doing both. Just be sure the soup doesn’t come out of your nose.

Polacco, Patricia. Mrs. Katz and Tush. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

We survived an unexpected doctor’s visit yesterday (Baby Boy was beside himself, crying and screaming and inconsolable, for hours – nothing was apparently wrong besides being extra tired, and today has been a far better day), and today, we had a lovely trip to the swimming pool. Sister LOVES to swim, with floaties, and Brother has the crazy little-babies-kick-in-the-water thing going on. It’s some instinct, I tell you – I’d both love to and be terrified to let him try to swim in the water. We ate ice cream and hot dogs and Baby Boy smiled a lot. Baby Girl was enormously happy herself. She cracked us up on the car ride home, at one point, repeatedly saying, “Hola,” like “Diego’s daddy said.” With each syllable overemphasized and repeated until the sounds lost nearly all meaning, we laughed. Undeterred, she said, “I’m teaching you!” to her daddy until he repeated the sounds back to her. “That’s Spanish talk!” Ah, that girl.

And then, getting ready for bed tonight, we had a super sweet moment. “I love you!” I said to Baby Girl.

“I really, really love you a lot,” she said, and my heart swelled and pounded and did a flip or two (I guess it was at the pool on the diving board).

Then, apropos of what I don’t remember, I said to Baby Girl, “I’ve seen you every day of your life!” I’ve slept away from her once, for one night – when Baby Boy was born – but I still saw her each day. 

“No,” she said, with certainty.

“Yes, I have!” On this one, I felt sure. The furthest away I’ve ever been, drive-time-wise even, was an hour and a half, and that’s just been once, and just last month. I’ve been with my girl a lot.

“No,” she went on, “we will die. At the end, we will die.”

Oh. Yes, I’ve seen her every day of her life, and while at some point that will cease to be true because of sleepovers and trips and college, at some other point, that will cease to be true because I (please, let it be me before her) have ceased to be. 


What does she see when she looks at the world?

What does she see when she looks at the world?

1. Daffodils from February!
With daffodils in Winchester

2. This morning, snowflakes were falling, an all-too-infrequent occurrence here this winter. We watched out the window before sitting down on the couch to read books. Then, being the sometimes silly girl she is, she leaned off my lap to feign tumbling off. “I’m falling like a snowflake!” she said. Figurative language from such a small figure.

3. While Daddy played with her before dinner, she replayed a line from a favorite episode of World World (never mind that we haven’t watched it in months). “Snug as a bug in a what?”
“Snug as a bug in a rug. That’s what people say,” said Daddy.
“What people?”
“People like us? We are people. We are not other people. We are just us.”

4. Again, and out of the blue, as she lay in her toddler bed, about to go to sleep:
“Why did Boo Boo die?”
“Sometimes people and animals get old or sick or both, and they die.”
“What does it mean?”
“What does what mean?”
“What does it mean?” (This followed on the heels of earlier questions, like “What does it mean to beg?” and “What does it mean to be upset?”, so I had a good idea of where this was going.)
“What does it mean to die?”
It’s surprisingly difficult to manage a proper answer on the spot. “When you die, you can’t breathe or move or talk. Your heart stops beating.”
After exploring some of this herself – we are alive, our cats Pepper and Maria are alive, our hearts are beating – she followed up with, “I hope Boo Boo gets better.”
Death, according to my toddler, does not get the final word. Either that, or my explanations of death could use some work. You decide.

Last night, we were reading Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy (charming and totally worth a read!), and Tacy’s little sister Bee dies. She shut the book then, and we called it a night. To be fair, it might also be because I got teary, and she doesn’t like to see that, but how could I not? Reading to my small child, and a small child dies? *sigh* So much for emotional control.

This morning, she asked, “Why did Boo Boo die?” (The Boo Boo interest was renewed when a stray cat recently wandered through the backyard, and she said, “Maybe it’s Boo Boo!” We had to remind her that Boo Boo died, and the stray cat did not appear to be her reincarnation.)

“Sometimes, people and animals get sick, and they die,” I told her. I feel like this is slippery territory for a not-quite-three year old: she recently had a cold and has another small one. I don’t want her to think she’s about to die every time she gets a sniffle. “But usually, people are old before they die. Children don’t usually die.”

“I won’t die,” she told me, with all the certainty of a two-year-old.

“Everyone dies sometime.”

“I’ll die and you’ll die and Daddy will die,” she then acknowledged, just as breezily.

Somehow, I don’t know which set of statements was worse. We should go eat breakfast now; too much truth on an empty stomach can make you sick.

“Nigh-night, Mama. Nigh-night, Dada. Nigh-night, Pup. Nigh-night, Boo-Boo.” She runs through her list, unprompted, night-nighting her loved ones in the house.

“Dit.” Yes, honey, Boo-Boo’s sick. “Boo-Boo. Tum-tum. Hurt.” She signs “hurt” with her index fingers, pointing them at each other like God passing the spark of life to Adam in the Sistine Chapel ceiling. That’s right, honey, Boo-Boo’s tum-tum hurt her. “Nigh-night, Boo-Boo.” That’s right, Boo-Boo went night-night. “Deep.” That’s right, Boo-Boo went to sleep.

And Boo-Boo’s been asleep for a week and a half.

She came to us, a lost cat with a jingle-jingle collar, when we lived in Texas. A Manx-Siamese cat, she never took much comfort in the usual kitty things: no snuggling or lap warming for her. She’d bite you. She maybe purred a half a dozen times. Maybe. All the same, she was a gift.

Our daughter certainly thought so. She’d go up to her, try to pet her, then quickly retract her hand, as if Boo-Boo were hot. Teeth are a good dissuader, but not good enough. She kept trying. She’d pick up the cat toy and wave it, trying to engage Boo-Boo, and sometimes it worked. When Boo-Boo came to the kitchen, hoping for some canned food and waiting patiently by the island, my daughter would say, “Eat!” and put her hand to her mouth to sign hungry so I’d know to feed Boo-Boo. In time, Boo-Boo would suffer enough to let my daughter pull her ears and lean against her like a pillow.

And she’d been part of the family for years, even appearing in a wedding photo with Sophie.

With the addition of our daughter, our family has grown, and it was going to grow more. “You’re going to have a brother or sister,” we told her. “Right now, the baby’s inside Mama’s belly.” Give Mama’s belly a kiss, we prompted her.

She did.

After the miscarriage, we didn’t tell her to do that anymore. About a week later, though, unprompted, she bent over while sitting in my lap and kissed my belly. She hasn’t done it unprompted before or since, and I wondered if she understood more than we thought she could.

She was with us at the doctor’s office when they couldn’t find a heartbeat for the baby, protective and crying when they wanded me for an ultrasound, and she was with me when Boo-Boo had to be put to sleep; kidney disease is a silent, sneaky thing, drawing in even the toughest of cats, the ones you think that would even be likely to outlive you, even if you lived another fifty years. We sat in the room with Boo-Boo before the vet came in, and my daughter petted her, pulling her ears as she often does. The vet came in, and, protective and crying, she shouted, “No-no!” when the vet tried to pet Boo-Boo. What business did this stranger have with her cat? Once my lovely stroked the cat again, a vet tech watched her while I cried and spent time with the cat. I didn’t want her in the room while they gave Boo-Boo the shots that would end it all.

Outside, I could hear her playing and talking to the parrot which lives in a cage in the corner.

I stroked the cat myself and spent the time I needed to with her, fingering her torn ear, petting the soft fur beneath the joints, saying my own good-bye. When I was ready, I went out and picked up my daughter and held her up to the window. Boo-Boo lay on the counter as if asleep. “Say bye-bye to Boo-Boo, honey.”

“Nigh-night,” she said with a little wave. “Deep,” she added. That’s right, honey, Boo-Boo went to sleep.

And still, she talks of Boo-Boo. It’s been eleven days. “Dit. Boo-Boo.” Then she’ll raise a finger and wag it, shouting, “NO! NO! NO!” Is it to the vet? To Pepper, our other cat, who would chase Boo-Boo and leap on her, like a pro wrestler jumping off the ropes? Is it something more, her way of warding off something I didn’t know she could understand? What can a little girl know of death?

“Boo-Boo. Tum-tum. Hurt.” No spark of life leaps to Boo-Boo, but in the sweet innocence of a small child’s memory, she lives on, for as many days, weeks, or months as a little girl’s mind can hold the thought of her cat. “Nigh-night.”

Night-night, Boo-Boo, and night-night, little one.