sometimes it’s the innocent words that hurt us the most. the most harmless thoughts become real words that float out our mouths into the air, and cut the deepest. they have no motive behind them, no malice or aim to injure. but they are daggers to the heart.
“mama, are you still sad because tia angie is dead?”
the not so subtle reminder. the now-5-year-old easily senses i am dying inside, as i lay next to him in his bed, and try to get through our nightly rendition of “somewhere over the rainbow.” i can’t stop the tears as they pool under my eyes, my voice cracking. i beg the song to hurry up, but as i sing the words their meaning strikes my rawest nerve more than every before.
“someday i’ll wish upon a star, and wake up where the clouds are far behind me”
my voice breaks, unable to finish the line. i look down at the sweetest face staring up at me… deep breaths… he asks me again. when Angie died i didn’t hide it from him. i couldn’t. i was woken from my sleep with the worst news imaginable, and instantly he knew something was seriously wrong. i filled every inch of the house with the sound of pure uncontrollable anguish, unable to control myself. he ran into my room, in tears, utterly confused and terrified as to what was happening. “mama what’s wrong? what’s wrong?” i laid on the floor, wailing until the breath stopped coming from my lungs. when i could make words i managed to tell him i was so very sad because tia angie died. and i hugged him tight, showering him with tears while i wailed. and he wouldn’t let me go. i’m fairly certain i scarred him for life.
yes sweetie, mama is still sad that tia angie died.
in the immediate week following her death we talked about death and dying a lot. he was coming with us to San Francisco for the week to get everything ready for her service, and to visit with family flying into town. it would be impossible to avoid talking about death when it would be surrounding him for the next week, so we ventured into unknown territory. i thought he would have so many questions but he really was most fixated on the $64,000 question… why did she die? i felt he was old enough to understand that death is a part of life, so i told him “at some point our body doesn’t work anymore and we go to be with God.” because that’s typically what happens to people, right? our physical body craps out on us and BOOM… do not pass Go, do not collect $200. but this was different. she wasn’t sick, her body wasn’t weak. and yet she left us regardless. so when he asked, i did what many parents do when they don’t have the answer: i lied to him. i lied to him to protect him from the terrifying reality at my mind’s forefront everyday: we may never know the why or the how. the reality is that i will have to find peace with the unknown, and i don’t know how to do that.
death terrifies me, that’s totally normal right? my fear comes mostly from selfish reasons: i am not ready to leave my loved ones, and i sure as hell don’t want to be separated from those i love. losing angie at such a young age has further emblazoned into my psyche the fear of dying. it terrifies me to know i will never know when my number is called until the moment is upon me. i agonize over her last moments that night… did she realize she was dying… please God, i hope not. did she suffer… i can’t believe i think these things. there is something seriously wrong with me. she was alone… was she scared… usually by this point i am sobbing hysterically, pleading with God that all these answers be “no.”i am seriously sick, i can’t help but feel these painful questions bubble up. my heart is so pained with the unknown because it leaves the door ajar for these unimaginable, tremendously awful thoughts. after drowning in that pain for a while i manage to shove them down, out of sight, and remind myself that she would not want me to obsess like this, she wouldn’t want me to think these thoughts. it will just make me crazy. if i’m not already. but every now and again they return, uninvited.
i suppose i shouldn’t be surprised he keeps bringing up death, he had more exposure to it in 1 week than most do in years. exactly one week after angie passed away we lost my Oompa (my Dad’s dad) at the ripe age of 93. i loved my Oompa (and i know how bad this sounds) but i wasn’t sad over his death… mostly because i was incapable of grieving anything other than angie, but also because for years he had been telling us “i’m ready to go!” (as in, “upstairs”). he’d even not-so-subtly point to the sky when he said it. he had lived a long life, longer than he wished to live, and finally gone on hospice not even 2 weeks before angie’s death. we as a family chose not to tell him of her passing because we thought it would only hurt him (and he struggled with some mild dementia already, would he have to re-live that over and over?). looking at this picture now, i wonder what went through his mind when she was the one welcoming him into the party in the sky… i can imagine a good amount of confusion, then a chuckle under his breath, and a comment to the effect of “got any new tattoos since the last time i saw you?”
we all had death on the mind. the weeks that followed were rough, with many nights spent sobbing and wandering the house aimlessly. no amount of effort could hide my own collapse into darkness, my son saw it. his little ears heard so much, more than i wished. as a parent you never want to burden your child with your own pain. your job in life is to protect them, not hurt them. to know i may have hurt him just adds to my heavy heart.he was reminded on a daily basis that his mama was more than sad, she was broken. maybe that explains why he continues to innocently cut me deep with the reminders that my beautiful sister is gone. maybe those painful memories are just as much in his brain as they are in mine. or maybe he doesn’t know how long i’ll be sad, so he keeps asking. i can’t bear to tell him “forever”.
he can tell i am struggling. i try to finish the song, having to whisper at the end because my voice is broken for good. he sits up in the bed, and turns to look at me with his big dark brown eyes. they have the same eyes, so full of expression. his plump little cheeks still make him look like my little baby boy but what comes out of his mouth is anything but…
“you know what mama? tia angie was young but her heart only had a little bit of love left in it and that’s why she had to die.”
he rolls over to snuggle his little teddy bear, wrapping his arm around mine in the process as if he is the one comforting me. the tears stream down my face like rivers. it was so matter-of-fact. it hits me… he is right, that is the answer. her heart only had a little bit of love left in it. she had given her heart to everyone else, and left nothing for herself. i may never have a tangible explanation for the loss of my angie, but i hope i may find a shred of peace with this one. at least for tonight.