13 April 2005

costumes, the pope and death

so we were getting ready to have lunch the other day when the news came on. before I even knew what was happening, I found myself in the middle of a delicate conversation about death with my four year-old daughter ava. two very important-looking catholic officials (dressed in full regalia- cardinals, I think) were being interviewed about the funeral of the pope. and thus, the conversation began.

"momma, what are those costumes those guys are wearing?"

"um. well, those are special clothes they wear for their job at the church they go to."

"why do they look like that?"

"well, it's like a costume. I mean, a uniform. you know, special clothes."

so ava is now watching actual footage of the funeral. oh people. I don't know why I didn't turn the television off. all I can say was that it was unfolding before me like some sort of unstoppable wreck. of course, more questions:

"momma, who's that man? what happened to that man?"

"well, that's the pope and he was in charge of this really big church and he died. they're having a funeral for him."

"but what does that mean?"

"okay. well. when someone dies, they have something like a quiet party for them. so they can say goodbye to the person who died."

"but how did he die?"

"well, he was very, very, very, VERY old and sometimes people just die when they are old."

and I knew exactly where all this was going, knew the questions were going to keep coming, because one question about death (or sex) always leads to another (and another and another). and so I chose to continue to answer them as simply and honestly as I could. because what else could I do? plus, I want ava to feel like she can ask me anything about anything and everything. and then, in such a timid, heart-breaking little voice, she hit me with this one:

"so, is daddy going to be very, very old someday?"

(translation: is daddy going to die?)

"well, yes. someday. but not for a very, very long time. but everyone dies. we are born and we live and then someday, usually when we are very old, we die. it's just how things are in our world."

"so what happens when you die?"

(palpable silence)

"well. we believe that you go to a place called heaven."

"what is that? where is that?"

"okay, yes. well, it's way up high in the sky, far away from this world and it is very beautiful with all kinds of fun things to do and clouds (yes people I said that. I said CLOUDS.) and God is there."

"well, how is that guy going to get all the way up there?"

"that guy? oh you mean the pope? well, we don't really know how it happens. maybe God reaches a big, strong hand down and takes us up into the sky. I don't know, mommy doesn't know. no one really knows."

"is God going to make that guy better?"

"well, no. because that guy has already died. but God has the power to make people better sometimes."

"if I get a big owie on my knee, will God reach down with his big hand and take me up to the sky?"

(dear lord, what have I done)

"no, because the owie on your knee won't make you die, see? so it won't be time for you to go to heaven yet. you have a long, long time to live before you die. but God can probably help you with your boo-boo."

"what are they going to do with that man now?"

and I just could not bring myself to tell her the plain truth here. that they were going to bury him. which meant that they were going to physically put his body into the ground. I just couldn't stand the idea of what might go through her sweet, bright little mind (and the questions that I might be forced to answer as the wheels of her brain worked overtime to comprehend that sort of reality) so I wimped out and sort of skimmed over it and talked more about heaven (pretty clouds! pretty clouds!) and just as suddenly as it all began, it was over. she became interested in something else (polly pocket-related, most likely) and was on her merry little way. I, on the other hand, was numb from the entire interaction. rendered completely speechless by the profundity of the conversation I'd just had with ava. did I say all the right things? should I have said more? less? my mind was racing.

motherhood. it's crazy. always throwing me curve balls out of the clear blue stinkin sky.


  1. Hello there - Just wanted to say that I thought you handled that very very very well indeed!! I think I would have changed the subject LONG before you did! You and your daughter will have a very special relationship.

    Claire (Scotland,UK)

  2. That was probably the most powerful insight - not only into little Ava - but you. What a great mom you are. I think you handled it very well. But don't think that topic is over - one day it will rear its ugly head again. But I have NO doubt you will handle it with the same gentleness as you did the first time. Am I a lucky mom-in-law or what?

  3. how sweet! We never had THE BIG TALK with jaylie, but we've had several little ones. I am not a sugar coater, but I do try to be sensitive to them being little. My mom wasn't a sugar coater either. I think that you did a great job though....who knew that your 4 year old would be that interested in the Pope's funeral :) Jaylie is also obsessed with Polly Pockets!

  4. Wow. Our beautiful little artist polly pocket girl is also a thinker. Andrea, congratulations on your patience and honesty.

  5. Oooooh, that just melts my cynical heart...I especially love describing a funeral as a "quiet party"

  6. Did you just say "clouds?"

    And if you all could see how Ava gets when she asks these serious questions -- she has this strained look, with furrowed eyebrows and head slightly tilted to the side. She's really intent on knowing the answers.

    Great job there, Andrea. Not only is motherhood physically difficult, but mentally as well.

  7. Wow. I'm impressed and speechless as well. What a little thinker she is. You guys are Good. I'm honored to konw you :)

  8. clear blue stinkin' sky... with CLOUDS! :)

  9. Congratulations on your new blog! I stumbled upon it while reading your husbands.....via Loobylu....and so on and so on......Love the name Hula Seventy! It's kind of fun isn't it (this blogging)?! (I just started one myself and linked you on one of my posts) Enjoy!

    jan (vancouver, b.c., canada)

  10. Hi, good job on that one. I know exactly what you mean. I have a four-year old son, we have a site about our family too. Right now his "big" questions are more like, "Can you pick up a car like Mr. Incredible Dad?" Umm....yeah. :)

  11. I can't tell you how great all this encouragement feels, especially since I felt a little 'iffy' regarding how I handled the situation. thanks, all.

    unfortunately, now every time I am met with any sort of situation I want to get out of (or divert attention from), I have the uncontrollable urge to yell "pretty clouds! pretty clouds!"

    and klahd, just for the record- that's what I'm here for... to melt that cynicism away into pools of gushing, cooing loveliness. I will stop at nothing until my mission is complete.

    thanks for visiting, everyone.

  12. I found my way hear from The Ward-O-Matic too, and when Ward said you had a talent for capturing the moment, he certainly wasn't wrong. Fantastic post, and you handled the situation admirably!

  13. Wow, good job Andrea.
    I wonder if this will show up in any of Ava's Art pieces. Will we start seeing pretty clouds? :)

  14. Can't say enough about how well you handled this! You talk about a 'tear-jerker'!!! What a blessing that girl is.. and the best is yet to come! I am proud of you, as usual, for being a great mom! Love you, gym

  15. "Pretty clouds! Pretty clouds!"