From the outset, I've been unsure how to approach the matter with a child so young. It would likely have been easy enough to avoid the matter, or explain it away, but I felt unsettled trying to do so. I began with half-truths: I told Abby that we would be going to Pennsylvania to say goodbye to her great-grandmother, without elucidating further. She accepted this without question.
However, soon we were at the viewing, and she saw her great-grandmother there in the casket, looking so unlike she did in life. I was unexpectedly compelled to protect my daughter from the strangeness I felt, so I said to Abby, "She's sleeping." But even as the words left my mouth, they sounded strangest of all: forced and hollow. I couldn't speak the truth to her then, however. The sorrow lurking deep within me choked off any attempted mention of my grandmother's actual passing. Instead I mumbled, "She's sleeping, and going to heaven," still feeling somewhat untruthful as I did so.
I was not the only one wrestling with my grief, I knew. We all engaged in small talk of the strangest sort, offering our opinion on the quality of the undertaker's work, and what specific details he must have gotten wrong to make her resting face fall so short of her living one. We decided that it was her mouth. It was long and stretched, and gave her face an expression that she'd never made in all the time we'd known her.
The tears did not come again, not right away. Not until my aunt stood up on the altar, pulled out a treasure box and began to speak of my grandmother. I had the sense that I was learning more about the woman that she was in that moment than I had managed to do in a whole lifetime of knowing her. For a moment, the chasm of grief was immense- not only had I lost those facets of her that I knew, I had forever defaulted on the chance to get to know her any further.
The sorrow still remains, waiting. I can't seem to find the right moment yet to take it out, examine it, and hopefully find a fitting place to put it back and carry it around in a more manageable way. However I've gotten better at functioning with the extra, uncomfortable weight, unfortunately positioned as it might be.
I continue on.
And so, when Abby sat down next to me yesterday morning and began to talk about her recent experience, I let my guard down just a little bit more. I allowed the passage of certain words, certain thoughts, certain images. I tried to make her privy to them. When she said to me, "Grandma was sleeping," I finally had the courage to correct her. "Great-grandma died, Sweetie," I said, tentatively.
Those mesmerizing eyes looked up at me. "She died," Abby said, with total acceptance and a touch of the same sadness that I had intoned.
"Yes. She's in heaven, now." Not for the first time, she asked me where heaven was, and I struggled to explain. But there were no more questions about death.
When they come again, I hope to be ready.
|Abby's "angry face." Her resemblance to my three-year-old self when she does this gives me goosebumps.