Grandpa’s Information

A guest post by Danielle Applestone.

rhett in my laundry basket

rhett in my laundry basket

This happened about six months ago, and I just had to get up in the middle of the night and write it down. My son was about 3.5 years old at the time.

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Last night, while my son and I were laying in bed, we were talking and then he fell silent. I was glad that he was finally relaxing. Then he said, “momma, where are you when you die?” I’ve been thinking about what I would say to him for several weeks now. I thought I would just tell him things that were concrete. It occurred to me in a microsecond that if I tell him about ‘heaven’ and all that, that is what he will probably believe his whole life. I realized that at this moment, whatever comes out of my mouth is going to turn into complete reality for him, at least for many many years.

This is how our conversation went, more or less:

me: Well, when I die, all the energy that used to be in my body and all the particles that make up my body will go back into the earth again.
he: Then what will you be.
me: I might be anything. I could be part of the sky or a tree or a dog. some of me might even go out into space.
he: Or a plant.
me: Yeah, or a plant. My energy could be part of anything, even a new baby.

This is where he starts crying.

he: Mom, I don’t want you to die. And I don’t want to die.
me: It’s hard to think about dying. It hurts a little.
he: Yeah.

Then I start crying. We laid there and cried a little.

he: Maybe part of you could turn into a baby that would grow up and then be my momma.

(That’s where i really lost it)

I don’t even remember saying anything to that, but it was clear to me that it was just his speculation/wishing.

he: Momma, when are we going to die?
me: No one knows when we will die.

He cries more.

he: But I don’t want anyone to ever die. Not you or grandma or me or papa, not even on a camping trip.

The reason he mentioned dying on a camping trip is because the year before, we were on a camping trip with a group of friends and one of them died by drowning. It was his first exposure to death and the emotions of a group of people grieving about the loss of a close friend. It made a big impact on him for several months. We talked about it in a very honest way, but at that time, he was only about 2.5. It was clear to me that the gravity of ‘death’ hadn’t actually sunk in until the night when we had this conversation.

me: Well, we can’t know when we are going to die, but what we do know is that right now in this moment, we are not dead and we’re together and we’re warm and hugging each other and talking.
he: Yeah. I love you.
me: I love you too.

We paused a bit here.

me: Did you know that all of the information in my body is in your body?
he: My body?
me: Yes. And all of the information in papa’s body is in your body too, cause we are the ones that made you.
he: Whose information do you have?
me: I have all of grandma’s information and all of grandpa’s information.
he: *with great excitement* That means I have grandpa’s information too!
me: Yep, you are one quarter grandpa.

Some time passes. ‘Gurdip’ is a friend’s dad and probably in his mid-60’s. We stayed with him for a night and saw him a couple of other times when we went to Airventure in Osh Kosh.

he: Gurdip had kids and then they grew up. Are you as big as Gurdip?
me: No, Gurdip is older than me.
he: Is papa as old as Gurdip?
me: No.
he: Maybe we can live as long as Gurdip, until I grow up.
me: Most people do live a long time, until their kids grow up. But nobody knows for sure.
he: Mama, I don’t want to die. I don’t want you to be bones.
me: I know baby, nobody wants to die.

I don’t remember clearly what we talked about after that, but it wasn’t really about death. He just sort of let it go and we hugged and kissed for a bit and then he rolled over onto his belly and I patted him to sleep.

The idea of heaven and all that jazz would be so satisfying to him. The idea that there is something else for us after we die is what you want to tell a little sad kid, but you just can’t. I can see why people do. It is just so important to allow children to feel sorrow about things that are real. If we choose to ‘protect’ them from painful emotions, we are not helping them become a part of their world. My only goal as a parent is to raise a child who is emotionally aware and knows how to protect his body. Sometimes this means that we have to have uncomfortable and teary conversations, but I don’t think there is any other way. I felt incredibly relieved after our conversation that night, just as I always feel after we have an important conversation (what are condoms for?….how does your body make a baby?…where does a tampon go?) A big part of me wants to have these conversations because no one had them with me. I’ll bear the burden of being very uncomfortable so that once my child is an adult, these things will be natural to him and he can pass them on as easily as passing on the tradition of religion.

13 Responses to “Grandpa’s Information”

  1. That was really beautiful. I sometimes think about having to handle this when I have kids, and I think I’ll handle it in exactly the same way as you did. :)

  2. Thankful says:

    It’s good to know that there is some responsible parenting going on.
    While I think that if you have a faith-based belief, it is okay to pass that on to your child, but you MUST also give the child an explanation that can be rationally explained and objectively demonstrated such as this. To not do so is to rob your child of the development of rational thought.
    Personally, I believe that faith has a role to play in life (as you said it is comforting, but I believe it is also another method of transferring norms and values), so I would explain both the scientific and faith-based view (in my case, Buddhist), hopefully as clearly and simply as you have.
    That way, (if I ever have a child), they will be able to grow up and choose what they believe for themselves. (hopefully through the use of critical thought and rational debate)

    Good Job!

  3. Surely, This says:

    Having kids of my own, I want to say how simple and true your terse transcript of the conversation is. In this sense, it’s beautiful. A template for the future of honesty without religion. Well done.

  4. Richard says:

    What I would give to have had a mother like you cannot be measured. Thanks for brightening my day.

  5. danielle applestone says:

    :] We’ve had an interesting revisiting of religious ideas in our life lately, as rhett is attending a Lutheran school. I like the morals and values that go along with a lot of religious teachings when the kids are very little (be it buddhist or lutheran or whatever). It is a bit overpowering for me, as the concept of instilling a _particular_ religion (christianity in this case) is unimportant in my view. I do like the ideas of mercy, acceptance, being a ‘good samaritan’, hand-washing, etc that they promote at his school. Religious people already know that kids like stories so they are all over that type of media. So I would agree with you that religious stories are a good way of transmitting beneficial values. I suspect that we’ll be having more conversations regarding ‘god’ and ‘heaven’ as concepts in the near future.

  6. Kathleen says:

    Thank you for your post. I’ve been struggling with these issues in myself (since childhood, really) and though this post got me a little teary, you handled it great. I’m a little sensitive about it this week since I’ve been thinking about mortality a lot, especially since I have a 1 year old who makes time fly so fast. My beliefs are Buddhist in nature, so I will most likely follow your lead when the time comes and he starts asking these questions.

  7. Alita says:

    my daughter is 3.5 years old now, and as potrayed on the blog above, she asked so many realistic questions and i must say sometimes it does gives me a great shocked. she did questioned me about where she came from [i framed all my ultrasounds pic] and she seems to be amazed that she was so small to fit in my tummy. and had once tried to sneak underneath my shirt to see if she still fit. it really took me awhile to answer her but i did eventually, so i told her that papa and mama made you and because we made you, your ears and mouth is exactly like papa and your eyes & attitude more like mama. She’s satisfied with the answer and had never asked me since. Thank God for that.
    She once question my hubby, this is her daddy’s explanation version, papa married to mama and then came you as our stress-relief toy. and she look confused [my hubby enjoy to see her confused face...cute from his point of view] poor thing ;p
    kids this days consumed formula that contain vitamins from A to Z, not like us when we were growing up. poor us..haha
    Now she’s growing so fast, i have to prepare myself with all the informations that she needs cause she will never stop questioning cause kids never does till they are satisfied.

  8. jeff says:

    honesty.

  9. eric says:

    There will come a time when the idea of information, DNA, evolution, chaos theory, and all that jazz (told in meter and song probably) will be as satisfying to a crying little boy as heaven and all that jazz is now.

    This story continues to inspire me. A template for all matters of teaching kids about the universe and their place in it.

  10. Darren says:

    pure beauty, thank you.

  11. Alicia says:

    Thank you for sharing a beautiful part of your life with Rhett with us. I was moved so deeply. Will you be my Mom? I realize that I don’t get another chance at raising you. All the things that I didn’t know I know now. All I knew was to love and cherish every moment of your life with me. I am so blessed to be apart of your and Rhetts life. I remember when he asked me about me dying before him. He said that he would be sad but that it was okay. I could not hold back the tears that gently rolled down my cheeks. I smiled at him and said that I would be sad to leave him,but we have everyday until that day. And we spent the next whole year together. He told me he hoped that I lived along time. I told him that I would do all I could to have more time here with him,momma,papa and grandpa. Then he gave me a big hug, smile and a kiss. Then we went fishing
    and riding on the tractor.The best part of my life now is just being grandma.Thank you so much.

  12. Steve says:

    Looks like I’m commenting a bit late. Believe it or not, I ended up here as a result of trying to register the domain “bea.st” Great minds think alike, don’t they? :)

    Anyhow, this post was very interesting and I’m glad you went to the trouble of sharing this story, and your personal reflections on it. I’m surprised and refreshed to read such a thoughtful existential discourse between parent and child, excluding religious concepts. I agree with your opinion that you simply can’t resort to giving children illusory promises about the hereafter. Death is not a comfortable topic for people, young or old, and it shouldn’t be. So, it’s for the better that you handled that conversation the way you did. To allow your child to learn how to handle all his emotions on his own shows extraordinary sagacity as a father. The fear of death not being the least of those emotions he’ll have to face. One day, perhaps, he’ll be fortunate enough to help his own son the way you’ve helped him to better understand life and death.

    Cheers,
    Steve

    PS. I discovered Disqus not long ago, and it’s a great tool for bloggers. I recommend Disqus Comments integration. It’s fairly easy to setup, and adds a lot of great features for trackbacks. I’ll be following your feed. Kudos on a great post.

  13. Zoe Spriggle says:

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