I went to two funerals today. The first was for the father of a dear friend. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in January, after going to the doctor because of a persistent cough. Alicia gave an incredible eulogy that truly made me wish I had known this man.
The second was for my mom’s friend, Mary, who lost her battle with Alzheimer’s after many years. Mom had said goodbye to Mary some time ago, as the progression of the disease had changed Mary’s personality so much. Having lost her sister, my aunt, from Alzheimer’s only 5 years ago, it was just too raw for Mom — very painful to be with Mary. So she just said her goodbyes and kept her friend in her prayers.
I went alone to the first funeral, but took the girls to the second one (at our church). It was at 4pm. Helen’s choir practice started at 4:30 down the hall, so I knew I’d only have both girls for the first part of the service. One-on-one in church, I do okay with them; it’s much harder with the two of them because they team up and get noisy. This was not a time to be noisy — Mary didn’t have any children so I knew I’d probably be the only one there with kids. I picked up some Color Wonder stuff at Publix before we got to church; thank goodness for Crayola. I knew it would buy me the 25 minutes before I could send Helen off to choir. And I talked with the girls all the way down to church about how we were going to a funeral for a friend of their Grama’s and it was VERY important that they be super extra good and quiet so Grama would be proud of them.
I cleaned them up after school, dressed them in bright, happy spring colors, put their hair up, and we drove down to church. Helen asked on the way there if Mary would be in a box. I said she would, but that the box would be covered by a blanket.
“Because the blanket represents Jesus’ love for us, and the comforts of God’s love.”
She accepted that.
We walked into church, and there was a very small box at the front with a blanket on it.
“Is Mary in that box?”
“Why is that box so SMALL?! Is she really in THAT BOX?”
I tried to shush her, since the service was starting, but she was getting more and more frantic. And louder. Oh, crap. Was I seriously going to have to get into a discussion about cremation with a five-year-old? NOT how I was planning on spending my day. But I did it to myself, since I took the kids to a funeral… SO. I had to think fast. We sat next to KelleyBR’s mom, so I think I must have channeled this next part (Sherry’s a minister). All of this was in hushed tones, whispering to Helen during the first hymn while she stared at the box.
“You know how Adam was made from ashes, or dust?”
Helen shook her head.
“Have you heard the priests say, ‘Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust’ before?”
She had heard that.
“OK. When you’re born, you come from ashes, just like Adam. And when you die, you go back to ashes. Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust. So Mary’s ashes are in that box.”
Apparently that was enough, and she didn’t ask again.
Then, on the way home, she wanted to know where Mary’s body went. I said, “When someone dies, they don’t need their body anymore because they’re with God in heaven.”
“Did Mary die in her sleep?”
“Yes.” (Actually, I don’t really know about that.)
“Am I going to die in my sleep?”
“I hope not, Helen. I’d like to keep you for a lot longer, if that’s quite all right with you.”
She’ll obsess for probably about a month. She found out today that one of her teachers from her preschool died this winter, also. Rough day for my kid, but I guess a good lesson about mortality.
She was asking me about cancer on the way to school yesterday. Our neighbor is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer right now, and has recently lost all of her hair. Helen wanted to know what cancer was. I told her it was kind of like a bump deep inside that gets bigger and bigger, and the doctors have a hard time making it stop growing. So they give really strong medicine and hopefully that will make the bump stop growing.
I’d give her more information about cancer, but she’d just obsess. “Cells growing out of control” would completely freak her out.
As it is, I fully expect that she’ll be coming up to our bedside to ask lots of questions about death in the middle of the night tonight.