One of my children has not known life without death. The other, is only beginning to grasp the concept.
Kelsey, my 19-year-old daughter by another mother was five years old when her brother, Colton died. She was 7 when her birth mother succumbed to breast cancer. I entered her sweet little life when she was 9. One short year later, she was helping me bury my mother. I remember so vividly the day her little voice told me, “I can help you. I know what it is like for your mother to die.”
As a Christian, I know death is not the end. I find it so ironic that I am writing this first post on the day we celebrate my risen Savior. I am not some Bible-beating Baptist. I struggle with the doctrine I have been raised with, but I know without a doubt Jesus died for my sins and was raised from the dead. Yet, I am not quite to the point in my life where I am willing to celebrate death as a final victory. And how do I explain that to my 8-year-old Levi? He has a child-like faith that is so pure, but how do I explain death, eternal life and the resurrection?
Death has become a constant in my life since I married in 2003. We lost my mother in 2003, my 45 year-old sister in 2005, her 18-year-old son in 2007, my 54-year-old brother in 2009 and my 34-year-old nephew in 2011. Every other year has been painful. The loss came home for Levi when my 54 year-old brother Eddie died. Levi was 6 and I struggled with a way to tell him that Uncle Eddie, the man who let him ride his back like a horse, was gone. Yet Levi, so innocent, had a better grasp of death than I did.
His father and I had not talked of death prior to losing my brother. Levi was too young to hear about his brother dying and the loss was far too fresh for my husband to find words for. However, one day when my daughter, Kelsey and I went to decorate her mother, brother and my mother’s graves; my husband, Larren, and Levi went with us. Levi noticed the photo of the little boy on the headstone. He asked his father who the little boy was. Larren explained that it was ‘my son and your brother.’ Levi asked what happened. Larren told him Colton had nearly drowned and then died from his injuries. Levi asked why no one had tried to save the little boy. My husband explained that he tried.
No one said anything until we were back in the truck and headed home. From the back seat Levi explained he ‘knew the little boy when he(Levi) was in heaven, before he was in was in mama’s belly.’ Levi then amazed us when he told his father he had met his dad, Levi’s grandpa. Levi explained that Larren’s dad had died 20 years ago. We had never mentioned Dutch’s death, much less how long it had been since he died. I really wish I would have had the countenance and composure to question my son about what he saw and what he knew. I could have learned so much from my little man.
Now we are facing a much different journey with death. My 35-year-old horse Samson has good days and bad days. With summer coming, he’s sure to have many more good days, but his old bones can’t stand the cold and arthritis keeps him in chronic pain. He is 107 in people years, so we know our time with him is limited. Still, my little boy believes a prayer can keep his beloved horse alive. I will have to explain we can show our love by letting our friend go.
I still can’t explain to my son why my Lord died such a violent death. I can’t think about it without choking up. Yet is so important to understand death is not the end. But, your child will let your know when they are ready to know more about it. If you are listening, if you are aware, God will give the words you need, the opportunity to share those words and the grace to give your child a chance to share what they know as well.