I was typing up thank you notes this morning, and had a picture of Chris on my desktop. I went to refill my coffee, and I overhead Liam talking to his friend Charlie about the photograph.
“That’s my Uncle Chris. He died. He had long hair and a beard. I can listen to a whole bunch of music he made.”
The way he said it was so casual. As I exhaled, it felt like I had been holding that breath for months. Over the course of the last week, I have had several conversations with Liam about death that did not end in tears and overwhelming fear for him. If you are unfamiliar with my writing, suffice to say, that is serious progress.
Liam began asking questions about death pretty early on. I’ve written about it a few times before, in particular how to honestly answer his questions to the best of my ability and provide comfort even though I consider myself to be an agnostic.
The worst incidents were when Liam, in his six year old way, would describe how he couldn’t stop thinking about death.
“I try to seal off the bad thoughts, but they are too powerful and keep crashing in.”
Writing that sentence breaks my heart. But as friend Lala always says “nobody is all one thing.” No story is all bad, not even the story of Chris’s death. One of the silver linings is that Liam is learning to let go of his fear.
I believe one of the things that brings Liam comfort is hearing other children talking about this mature topic. I received a note from a couple of boys I teach at my Kat Camps. They were so genuine in their concern for me, hoping I could “still be happy.”
Last night, Charlie told me he was sorry my brother passed away and that he hoped he was a great man. I said he was a great man and that I loved him. Liam didn’t say much during either of these moments, but spoke up today after Charlie asked about the picture.
Charlie said “you know he lives on if you keep him in your heart.”
“I do keep him in my heart. I talk about him a lot and think about him every day,” I responded.
“And one day when you die, you’ll get to go to Heaven and he’ll be there with you,” Liam said beaming, happy to be the one offering solace to me.
“I sure hope so. That would be awesome.”
Even though I know it has been tough for Liam, I am glad that I have spoken honestly and from my heart. I had a conversation with a very close friend after Chris’s passing, and was shocked to be reminded that she had lost a sister in her teens. I vaguely remembered her telling me this, and felt horrible for not remembering. But she explained that her family never really talked about it, that they don’t even mention her name. I know she wishes that were not the case.
I hate that Chris is not here, but I am glad that Liam will grow up hearing about him and knowing who he is. My heart soared today when I heard him telling his friend about him.
Over dinner a few nights ago, I asked Liam if he remembered what the Day of the Dead was. When Liam had questions early on about death, we set up an alter to remember loved ones.
Young children are so hit or miss when it comes to memories. Sometimes they know every detail, others they don’t even recall the occasion. But Liam remembered everything- that we had photos and candles, gave offerings of water and cookies, that we made our own marigolds since we couldn’t find any.
Tomorrow we will set up another alter, to remember not just Chris, but all the loved ones who are important to us.
Death, like everything else, has a duality. I’ve been thinking about that a lot, especially since I have been spending so much time writing. Most people have been very encouraging about my writing, knowing that it brings me peace to voice my thoughts. But I wonder about the dichotomy. Am I neglecting real relationships by spending so much time in thought? Am I avoiding having to get back into “real” life? Am I sabotaging myself by ensuring I stay focused through words on this incident? I am lucky to have a wonderful husband and understanding friends who know this is how I am working through this.
I don’t know. Last night, I made a crack to a girlfriend about how dealing with things is overrated. A joke to be sure, but a bit of truth to it. I think I grew up with this idea of closure- that you could somehow have some sort of ending incident to get closure on a bad situation or to at least say goodbye.
I don’t think I can ever fully deal with this. There will never be closure. Yesterday, I as laughing as if nothing had ever happened. My girlfriends were probably astounded and suspicious of how well I was doing. Today I completely melted down while cleaning my bathrooms.
I don’t know the answers. But I like silver linings. If there is one thing everyone knows about me, it is that I will find the glitter in just about anything.