This morning Sam was especially quiet on the way to school. This is normally something I would welcome, being that he rarely ceases to talk, but looking at him from the rearview mirror, something seemed amiss.
“What’s up Bubs?” I asked him.
“I was just thinking. What’s that special bed they have?”
I have no idea what he is talking about, but that’s Sam for you. His favorite thing to do (it seems) is to start a story smack in the middle and then get frustrated with you because you have to play 20 questions in order to get caught up to where his thought process is at.
“What is what special bed that who has?”
“The special bed that you lay in when you die.” he said sadly.
“Oh.” I choke out. Why is it that I am always alone for these conversations? It was Joe’s mom who died, Joe who worked tirelessly to ensure a strong relationship was formed between the kids and my mother-in-law because she and I could barely make civil small talk let alone cultivate something as precious as a child’s view on a person. So why was it always me handling the wreckage of their feelings? While my mother-in-law lay ill in the hospital, or recovering at the nursing home, or like this last time, dying. Joe was ever the good son, bedside or available to his parents, which left me at home to answer the torturously honest and beseeching questions five and eight year olds ask with regularity.
“It’s called a coffin” I told Sam. “What were you thinking about the coffin?”
Sam sighed. “I was thinking, that we used to call Amma before school everyday that Daddy drove us in. But we can’t now, because she’s lying in a coffin. I miss her.” he concluded.
“I know” I told him, even though I didn’t, not really. Everyone’s grief is distinct, the kind of innocent sadness he lugs around with him from time to time is far from the wretched and regretful feelings I have. Mine is the kind of sad that I can pick up and examine, then put back down, knowing it will still be there later, exactly as black and unresolved as it was when I left it. His is the kind he must hold tight to, or else it will change entirely.
One moment he is asking about the coffin, and in the next, lamenting Hanukkah without her, which turns into a discussion of all the ridiculous gifts she’d ever purchased for him, and without pause, to teasing about how she would not like Minecraft or the new Hockey video game where you can punch people out and then zoom in on their bruises.
Before I release them from the car for school, he is satisfied with this remembrance, and happy to think of her again, instead of just sad.
There will be his first Hanukkah without her, and his first New Years, his birthday, and Passover and the first summer where she doesn’t buy him his camp clothes and drive him bananas picking out things he doesn’t like. There will be more questions like this one, and the more pleading ones about why people have to die at all; the ones I have no answers to, like why G-d would create a place where everyone we love eventually goes, but that we cannot get to ourselves.
It doesn’t end with the funeral, although I wish it did.