Week 42: Up close and Personal
This year, Maren has gotten up close and personal with death, a natural but very painful part of life. In the spring, she lost her friend Copper and this fall, one of her grandparents' beloved sheepdogs, Rosie, passed away. When Copper died, Maren had a few questions - mostly about what dying means and how a horse can die - but not much more than that. With Rosie's death, however, her mind has been filled with questions - not just about what dying means but about what happens after death. From the time Maren began talking and asking questions, I've always tried to answer her in clear terms and as honestly as I know how. Which sometimes means that I have to say...I don't know.
And in the case of what happens after a life ends...I just don't know. So, I told her that there are all sorts of ideas about what happens to animals or people after they die. Some people believe animals go on to live with all the other animals that have already died. Some people believe that Rosie might turn into a butterfly or a tiger or some other sort of animal and come back to live a whole new life. Some people believe that her body changes over time until she turns into part of the soil. But, the truth is, no one really knows what happens.
As with all questions we discuss that have complicated answers, she takes my words in quietly - maybe she nods or says, "hmm" - and then goes on to another topic or off to play. But, without fail, a few days later she will ask me something else. A new question born from thinking over the answers to the old one. So, as expected, while lying in bed at the farm last week - as she talked away instead of sleeping - we had the following conversation...
Maren: "Mama, how am I going to die? Will it be cancer or something like that?"
Me: "Oh, honey...I don't know. I sure hope not."
Maren: "But, how then?"
Me: "I don't know. But, I hope that it is a long, long time from now. When you are a little, tiny old lady. After you've done all the fun and crazy things you want to do. I hope you just fall asleep peacefully in your own bed. And I hope you are surrounded by loads of people that love you...just like you are in your life right now."
Maren: "If I'm old, will you be old too? Will you be there with me, mama?"
Me: "Somehow, in some way, I will always, always be with you."
Despite my own brush with death years ago, I don't have any clear answers about the afterlife. And it has never bothered me. I've been comfortable with the fact that what happens after death is an unknowable, mysterious part of life.
Until that moment.
Until that question.
Lying beside her, watching her sleep, I hoped with all my heart that she will one day be that loved, fulfilled and peaceful little old lady lying in her bed. And I wished with all my soul to be there, in some way, to lead her out of her beautiful life and into whatever comes next...