We took an impromptu trip to the cemetery today, just me and the boys. Elise was in dance class. I was trying to help clarify things for Will, who has started to try to piece together what he knows about Emma and find a place in his world for her.
It started in the car after we dropped off Elise. We were headed to Salvation Army to drop off a car load of stuff we were getting rid of. Will, in that way little kids have of trying to start a conversation without giving the correct context first, asks me a question. I’ll admit I didn’t hear all of it because I was not really listening, but it had something to do with a house and a door. Confused, I asked Will again and again that was about all I could get from his question: “What is that house with the door by the gym?” I was about to give up on understanding him at all, but Will is pretty persistent until I give him some answer. Many times I just end up saying “yep” or “uh-huh,” but then I wonder if later he’ll try to hold me to something I never really knew I agreed to. 🙂 So I tried to clarify things a bit.
“Will, there is no house at the gym.”
“No! Not at the gym, you know, that place where Emma is.”
“Oh, you mean the cemetery, where Emma is buried?”
“Oh, I don’t know what that place is.” (I assume now he is talking about the little square block building in the middle of the cemetery. Does anyone know what that is? I actually have wondered about it since I was a kid too.)
Will, as he normally does when I can’t give an explanation, makes up his own.
“Maybe that is where her died.”
“Emma? No, I know where she died. She died at our house. At our old house. But when you die you go to heaven and get a new body, so you don’t need your old body anymore. So we buried her old body at the cemetery.”
Then he proceeds to tell me a story about Emma and water and Emma’s mom and then Emma being gone. I tried to explain that Emma never went into any water, and that isn’t how she died. “But Elise told me,” he argued. “But it isn’t true, Will.” “But Elise said . . .”
Me: “Will, sometimes Elise is wrong. I’m her mom and I know more than she does.”
Will: “You is not her mom. She has another mom. You is not her mom.”
Me, after putting a bit of thought into this and then remembering a swimming play-date with a friend: “Wait a minute. Are you talking about your friend Emma, or your sister Emma?”
Will: “My friend.”
Me: “Oh, well your friend Emma did not die. I was talking about your sister Emma. You did not meet her because she was born and she died before you were born. Now she lives in heaven with Jesus.”
At this point, we have now reached Salvation Army. Will points to a pile of boxes, “Is that where her body is? Can I see it?”
“No, her body is buried, in the ground. You can’t see it, but I can show you where it is.”
So after unloading our junk, we headed back to the cemetery. We still had time before Elise’s class got out and I thought it would be a good outing for us. As we pulled up next to Emma’s gravestone and parked, Will looks around and asks: “Where’s Jesus?”
And so, I started another explanation of heaven and how this is not heaven, it is just where we put Emma’s old body. We read the gravestone together, and then I showed Will exactly where she was buried.
Will: “I want to see the body.”
Me: “Well, you can’t see it, it is under the ground. They dug a big hole and then they put the box with the body in and then they covered it up.”
Will: “But I want to dig it up so I can see it.”
Me: “We can’t do that. You know what would be better is if I show you the pictures of Emma we have at home. You know, you have looked at them with Elise.”
Will: “OK.” He wanders over to another gravestone. “Who is under here?”
And that is how the rest of our excursion went. We wandered from gravestone to gravestone. Each time Will wanted to know who was buried there and when they died (which by that he meant how old they were). He also asked many times how you die. That was a harder question to answer. I’m not sure he understood when I tried to explain that there are many different ways to die. I don’t want him to become fearful. Many of the graves we looked at were very old and many of them were of infants or children around his age or younger. I’m sure it didn’t really help the point I was trying to make that most people live to be quite old and then Jesus decides it is time for them to go to heaven. He didn’t act fearful though, so perhaps he hasn’t made the connection yet between death and himself. I know that came later in Elise’s processing.
It is a little odd to be explaining all these things to him. It’s all reminicient of Elise’s processing of Emma’s death. She was just a little younger than he is now when Emma died. I’m glad he’s asking questions. I don’t always know how to bring these things up, but I do want the boys to feel as if they knew Emma and to realize she is a part of our family even though they never met her. It actually makes it a lot easier for me to tell them about her when they are asking questions themselves. I just didn’t know to even expect that, so now perhaps I will be a little more prepared when Seth reaches that point, probably in a little over a year from now.