There's been a lot of talk about dead people and heaven lately. Sam is a bit consumed. There was the time our beloved Kitty died and he processed that with many drawings and a 3-D demonstration of the Thomas the Tank Engine life cycle (which I personally thought was genius).
It's been quiet — no more talk of death — for close to a year. But he's in first grade now — learning about presidents both dead and living, discussing Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and why it's a holiday ("But he's dead, Mommy, right? Do they have birthday parties in heaven?") and suddenly he's all "Mom, can you tell me about your Grammie who died again? Your Grammie in Florida."
I oblige and tell him the bare minimum. I say, She was very sick and very old, Sam. I loved her very much and she loved you too. I don't tell him how there's a piece of me that aches when I think of her and that I don't really know the answers to his questions or the ones I sense are coming.
"How old was she?" he wants to know. Eighty-six, I say. "And how old was I? When she died." I tell him he and his brother were not yet two.
"Do we all die?" he asks. Yes, sweetheart, but after a very long, long time. My Grammie was pretty old.
"She's in heaven," he says. "But where is heaven? How do you get there?" I tell him the truth for once, that I don't know but that I imagine it's a beautiful place up in the sky where everyone is happy and it's sunny all the time. "But how do you get there?" I really don't know, honey, but I think your spirit flies up there when it's time.
What else can I tell a boy who gathers facts like a squirrel hoarding nuts. Facts are solid and make sense. Heaven is faith. Can my little boy have faith?
He dropped the subject for a few days and returned to poring over his encyclopedia (a requested item from Santa) and books about constellations.
Yesterday he came home from school and the first thing he said was "Listen, Mom? The Vikings thought that the Milky Way was a bridge the dead crossed from Earth to heaven." Drumroll, please… "That's what I think too. Okay?"
Well, okay then.