The beauty of a child’s desire to ask “why” is that it forces you to take a hard look at your own beliefs. Do you tell your daughter that she was carved from Adam’s rib or do you explain that she evolved from monkeys.
When my grandfather died this past June I knew that it would be a source of many questions for my son. So when I told him that grandpa had died I tried to do the best that I could to make it easy. At 5.5 there is no reason to overly complicate things, but at the same time I do my best to be quite honest with him. I don’t want him to be afraid to live his life. I want him to savor and enjoy it and part of that comes from removing the mystery of the things that scare us.
But that is easier said than done and not something that you can accomplish with the snap of a finger or the roll of the dice.
One of the things that my son has been mulling over is the cemetery. It is a place that he was intrigued by. In his mind it was frightening, but at the same time his curiosity made him want to go visit.
As I mentioned above I think that part of the way that we overcome fear is to try and understand whatever it is that frightens us. So with this in mind I thought that it made sense to take him to the cemetery. At the same time I wanted to be certain that he was truly comfortable with it.
During a conversation a couple of weeks ago he asked me again if I would take him on a special trip to see grandpa and I agreed to do so. I then intentionally waited a while to try and gauge where he was at, not to mention that my work schedule conflicted with the hours that the cemetery was open.
We finally got a chance to go and I have to admit that it was with some trepidation that I set out with him. My concern wasn’t because of my son. I was confident that he would be alright and we both agreed that if he changed his mind I would turn the car around.
No, it was because of me.
I hadn’t been back to the grave since the day of the funeral. And in some respects I wasn’t ready to go and see the place where grandpa was buried. As I drove along the 405 I felt myself get a little choked up and I found myself lost in memory.
I turned on the radio and Vin Scully’s voice helped bring me some peace. My first Dodger game was with grandpa and my dad. The Dodgers beat the Padres. There were fireworks, Farmer John Hot dogs (if you are a Dodger fan how can you not associate Scully and Farmer John) and peanuts and so much fun.
By the time I entered the cemetery and was headed up the hillside I was ready to handle any question that the little boy threw at me. So I parked the car and walked over to the grass.
We held hands and walked towards the grave. I looked down and saw a somber face taking it all in.
“It is really green here dad.”
“Aye, it is.”
Don’t ask me when I became Scottish or began saying “aye.” I just know that for a moment or two it was what came out of my throat.
We reached the grave and I sat down. He came around and sat on my lap and together we read the name on the marker and then the name on the tombstone of the grave next to it.
“Hey, that is grandma.”
“You are right, it is.”
“I wish that I could see grandma now”
“Do you still remember her?”
“Well, you were only 2.5 when she died. She really loved you and so did grandpa. As I said that there was a big sigh from both of us and he buried his little head against my chest. We hugged each other tight and sat quietly for a moment.
And then suddenly he stood up and asked if we could go on an adventure. I said yes and together we walked down the hillside looking for bad guys. In no time at all I had to explain to him that it wasn’t ok to hop from tombstone to tombstone.
He smiled and said “ok, we can just walk with the dead.”
It was an interesting response, but I knew that what it really meant was that he felt comfortable. The cemetery was no longer such a scary place to him.
As we walked back to the car I turned back and looked graveside. I was hoping to see grandpa standing there waving goodbye, if only in my mind. But all I saw were the leaves blowing in the wind and the long branches of a tree swaying.
It may not have been what I wanted but my son felt better and that was enough.