Today, over at Relaxed Parents, a father had his first talk about death with his three-year-old son.
The son asked the question, “Will I die?” The father answered, “We all die eventually.” The son chose to disbelieve him. “I am not going to die,” he said.
Little boys do not like the taste of death. They spit it out if they can.
Adults do not like the taste of death either. For a year, Joan Didion spat death into her napkin, hid it under the table so no one would see.
I remember when Youngest did not like the taste of death. He swallowed it whole when he was four-and-a-half years old and he couldn’t spit it out.
He is drawing pictures at his little table. He draws a picture of my father, who died years before he was born. “This is Mac,” he announces. Then he scribbles, hard, all over the picture, blocking it out. “Mac is dead.” He draws another picture, this time of my mother, who is very much alive. “This is Rosie.” He scribbles over this picture, too. “She is going to die.”
I can see he is getting upset. I don’t know how to stop it.
He draws another picture and immediately scrawls hard across it. “You are going to die.” He scribbles furiously. “I am going to die.” He is crying now.
“We are all going to die.”
He cries with huge, heaving sobs. He cries so hard he starts to choke. He gags. I pick him up and run to the bathroom. He misses the sink and the vomit spills all over the floor. There are little bits of food I can recognize: pasta and corn. But no death. He couldn’t dislodge it. Death refused to come up.
He keeps on crying.
I can’t thing of anything say, so I carry him outside. Somehow I think if we are outside, under the sun, it will be better. If there are trees and earth, it will be better.
I hold him in my arms and rock him as he cries, the way you do with all babies once you have had one of your own.
He keeps crying. He can’t stand it, I know that. He can’t stand having this certain poison inside of him.
I am so worried I consider hauling out the idea of heaven, which I don’t believe in. But then I think, “Don’t lie.” I know only one thing. At this moment I must not lie.
The sun is shining, my baby is crying, and I can’t think of anything to say that is not a lie.
And then I do. I know what I am going to say. I don’t know it if it will work. Please God make this work.
“Youngest,” I say. His crying lightens. He looks at me. I can tell he is hopeful. He believes in me.
“It is true that we are all going to die,” I say, “but there is one thing that does not die.”
He sighs. He waits. He tips his face to me as if I were the sun.
“Love doesn’t die,” I say. “And when we die, our love doesn’t die. It goes on and on.”
His little body relaxes in my arms. He gives a hiccup as the tears fall away. He stops crying.
Love is an antidote and it is enough.