My husband announced to friends and family this weekend that his mother “quietly passed after fighting stage 4 cancer that aggressively attacked her system since November without the long drawn-out battles she went peacefully without a great deal of pain.” He spent over an hour crafting that simple line, and he said that this was his fifth version.
On our way back down to Arkansas, Scott and I talked about his last conversation with his mother. I loved how the kids interjected their own thoughts:
Scott mused over some of his mothers final words of wisdom, “Last week was a 20 mile walk down a 10 foot hallway – I was dreading that last bit before the bedroom. Each step closer I took I was filled with peace and when I walked into the room she was ready. Mom reminded me of several phrases that always stood out to me -To thine own self be true, and don’t let others push you in the direction you don’t feel is right. She made me think things through more fully. I know that she was at peace, there was still things to learn, but there wasn’t the fear. It was “I’ve lived my life.” She may not have been proud of everything that she did in her life but she wasn’t full of regret. She lived her life. We will live life. We won’t focus on the ending. that is what she would want. The one thing that she was telling me was to follow my heart, to go through life and be strong. At the same time I got to see a glimpse of my grandfather and grandmother in my mom, that is the first time that ever happened.”
As he talked about Paula I could hear the kids in the back of the car chime in. Chase piped up, “She still gots that big owie.” I took a moment before responding. How do you talk about what happens after death to small children? “You know what? One of the wonderful things about going to heaven is that the owie goes away. She is happy watching over us right now.”
Emma got really excited, “When I die I’ll take care of Grandma Paula.” I knew that she was remembering how we told the kids the previous week that when Grandma passed away she would look out for our dog. It is amazing how she integrated that conversation into the current one. My children amaze me!!!
Not to be outdone Chase jumped in, “And when I die I’ll take care of Emma.” Emma responded, “Yeah, we are going to do our duty.” At which point Scott busted up laughing. “She said doodie.” Chase then quoted Vanellope Von Schweetz from Disney’s Wreck it Ralph, “Hero’s doodie?”
It felt good to have some comic relief, Chase then brought the conversation back on track, “Mommy, when you die, guess what, you are going to have to watch me. And Daddy, when you die you will have to take care of mommy, understand!”
Somehow the conversation changed gears and the kids wanted to know when we would see Grandma again. We discussed how although they wouldn’t get to visit with Grandma anymore, we would still have our memories and pictures. Chase wanted to know why we wouldn’t be able to see Grandma and I mentioned that she would be in Heaven.
Only a sweet, innocent child could come up with his next words, “I don’t know where heaven is. Which hill is Heaven?”
Where he got the idea that Heaven was on a hill I have no idea, but I loved it. “Heaven isn’t on a hill.” I replied.
“Hmm, Which hill goes to heaven?: I loved the intense little look that he got on his face as he looked at the hills we were currently passing on the road in Springfield.
“A hill doesn’t take us to heaven.”
“What takes us to heaven then?”
Oh boy! Memories of this same conversation thirty years previously flashed through my mind as I tried to remember how my mom explained this to us kids when our Great Grandmother passed away. “Um, well, when we die our spirit goes to heaven with those that come down to take us up there.”
You could see the gears turning in Chase’s brain as he processed this information. “And it already happened to grandma Paula. It is going to happen to us someday. ”