Michael loves stories. He loves to read them, watch them, and talk about them. He mostly loves the stories about when he was a baby. He loves to hear about when he was born and the way he spent his early days in the world. Last night like many nights at bedtime, he had lots of questions about his early life. He laughed as I talked about walking with him in the stroller all over our neighborhood, he smiled over talks about his preschool and current school, and spoke over and over how much he loved me, his father and our family cat, Princess. He also talked about how he wanted to stay with us forever. Then the inevitable question came up.
“Mommy, why do we have to die?”
I was stunned for a second. No matter how often he has asked me about death and dying, I am never quite prepared for answering these questions, particularly at night when I am tired.
“I don’t know honey. God decides that. But I do know that no one can live forever. Most people live a very long life though.”
I hope this is a good answer. It is somewhat true. My goal is to reassure him. I know how anxious he is about everything.
“So we’re all gonna die one day?”
He is not sad as he asks this, but rather pensive. He is trying to piece together a very difficult puzzle. I admire him. When I learned about death for the first time at nine years old, I asked my mother a million questions and was so frightened at the prospect of it. I admire Michael’s courage.
“Yes. No one lives forever honey.”
“I’ll be in heaven with you and Daddy then?”
“Yes. We’re all going to be resting there.”
“But I don’t want to rest Mommy.”
He gets a little annoyed. I have to laugh. Michael is all action.
“Well, maybe heaven for you one day will be going places.”
“Yes, that sounds better.”
He seems satisfied. Then he yawns.
“I love you Mommy. You’re the best Mommy God could have given me.”
I pause a moment to catch my breath as the tears clog my eyes and throat. This is truly a spiritual moment, one of many I have had with Michael. When I can speak, I respond.
“And I love you. You’re the best son could have given me. Good night Michael.”
“Good night. Hold me Mommy.”
And I wrap my arms around him as he falls asleep.
When I have challenging moments with Michael, I tell myself to remember moments like tonight when he opens himself up to discuss his fears and share his joys at being alive with me. We have had some difficult moments with behaviors this summer, some worries about his physical and mental well-being, and I wonder if I’m getting it all right. I lose patience at times, I sometimes long for privacy and space, and worry that I’m not strong enough for him. But when he turns to me with such thought provoking questions, such trust in my ability, I know I must be doing something right. I must have the answers, and if not, the discussions are where our relationship will continue to grow.
How do your discussions with your Exceptional Children and the questions they ask bring you closer? How do you answer their sometimes difficult questions? Here’s to seeing your children as people who open up your world with love, understanding and meaning. And here’s to you showing them the meaning of love and acceptance of themselves as well. Until next time.