Oh, out of the mouths of three year old girls during Good Friday mass. My daughter was sitting on my lap on the pew, the smell of fresh air and sunshine wafted up from her little body because we had remembered mass while on a family walk outside and had to cut it short, and she asked me an innocent question about Jesus. Little did I know that this moment would lead to one of the hardest lies I have ever had to tell my little girl.
See, we had briefed the kids on the way over, and we told them that Good Friday mass was more like a funeral. There would be no singing of joy and adoration, not a lot of singing at all really, and people would be sad because this is the day we mourn the crucifixion of Christ on the Cross. So, when we walked into church and sat down, the solemnity a warm, snug fog over the congregation, I didn’t think anything of the conversation from the van. I prayed my usual, “please let my kids be good through this gathering and thank you for leading us here to be with you safely, etc” and sat back in the pew. Ellery climbed up on my lap, her blue eyes squinted in thought, and she asked me, “why did Jesus have to die?” My heart sank; I had been dreading this conversation since we decided to raise our children Catholic. I do not like Good Friday. I don’t like to think of the cruelty that Jesus had to go through, the pain and torture. It isn’t my favorite thing to think about, though I am supposed to honor and behold that image as a Catholic. I explained to her, choking on my whispers, that the other people in His town thought Jesus was a bad man and a liar because some people called him the King of the Jewish People, and there was only allowed to be one king, the monarch, King Herod. Pontius Pilate, a man with a lot of power, didn’t act on Jesus’s behalf; therefore, Jesus was set to die. He was crucified on the cross, and I showed her in my palms where the nails went. I told her he went into Heaven on Easter Sunday, and He threw open the gates for us to be able to be with him when it is our turn to die. He was waiting for us, and we would all be with Him again one day. She looked up at the crucifix in the front of the church, seeming to understand this, and said, “oh. Ok.” She didn’t seem phased, and I breathed a sigh of relief that my answer was acceptable without further question. Or so I had assumed. After about thirty seconds or so, she walked down to see my husband, and she stopped dead in her tracks. The “something just broke my heart” look came over her face, and sobs trembled her chin. “I don’t want to be died!” she wailed, collapsing into my husband’s arms. He looked at me, dumbstruck, and I realized what I had done. “Come to Mama, baby. It’s okay; let’s just sit here and talk,” I cooed as she came back into my arms. I sat with her again and braced myself for the next part. Boy, had I stepped in it this time.
Her clear, liquid blue eyes pierced my heart as I wiped her tears. She looked at me, desperate for an answer as to why she had to die. And I started talking to her, assuring her that she would not die soon. I told her that none of us were going to die anytime soon, and we had a long time and life ahead of us to be together. She asked me if only adults die, and I was honest with her and told her that no, babies and kids can die also. But I would do everything in my power, as would my husband and our families, to keep her safe and healthy, alive and whole, for as long as we could. I calmed her fears, settling her heart over and over, telling her that we would all be okay and a family for a very, very long time. None of us would see Jesus soon. I promised. She smiled, gave me her signature squeeze around the neck and an, “I love you, Mommy.” My heart was so heavy, I almost couldn’t breathe. I lied to her…and it hurt me so.
See, here was what broke my heart. I don’t know when we will die. I can’t guarantee her that we will all be together for a long time. I can’t promise her that I will not die tomorrow, that she will live until she’s 90, or that none of us will see Jesus soon. I can’t know that, but I told her this. And it hurt me. I thought about the people we have lost too soon. July 20, 2013, reminded me that tomorrow is promised to no one, and death can happen at any single moment, with no warning. And Death doesn’t care if you have young children, a family, are alone, or have people counting on you. It doesn’t care, and it isn’t fair. At that moment, remembering my cousin and others who have passed well before we here on Earth are okay with it, fresh tears found their way to my cheeks. Onlookers may have seen my emotions as a direct reaction to the mass and message, but it wasn’t that. I was sad thinking of those who have passed, and the fact that I can be separated from my kids at any time, not guaranteed to see them become parents, see my grandchildren, dance with my husband on a monumental anniversary. And I was sad because, in the moment, even though I didn’t tell her the total truth, I did the right thing. I promised my child something that I have no control over, and something that is so fragile and unknown: that we would live for a long time, together, as a family. I did what I had to do, lied to my child in CHURCH no less, but it was an answer she accepted wholly, without question. And as I looked at her beach blond hair and cherub cheeks, her eyes calm with knowing she would not die anytime soon, I realized that I promised her something that I want to be true, so badly, and it is a promise I am okay with making.
There are conversations that you imagine yourself having, but you don’t really know how you will handle. From the sex talk to the death talk, there are topics that need to be broached with clarity and conciseness, honesty and simplicity. I didn’t imagine having the intro to death chat with my three year old at this tender age, but I am glad that she and I had that moment. It did my heart good to soothe hers, and I did what any mother would do: I made a promise to my child that, in my heart, I so desperately want to see through. And though we don’t know what our tomorrows will bring, as long as my child believes in me and the power of my love for her, I know no matter what, she will know I will never truly leave her, regardless of how many breaths we have left.
And it never, ever dies…
And that, right there, is a fact!!