“Mommy, I don’t want to die!” I could taste the fear in my son’s voice.
“Sweetie, you aren’t going to die.”
“But mommy, little kids die. I’m a little kid.”
I deal with death a lot. I have always been at peace with it. I attended my first funeral at age four when my little friend from church nursery died from a degenerative neuromuscular disorder of some sort. I had seen her waste away over the months and I remember being terribly sad for her that she could not run or walk or even feed herself anymore. Even then I imagined that she was probably pretty happy about not being in a wheelchair anymore even if she did miss her mommy and daddy.
Years later I was in medical school, assisting on an emergency C-section on the pediatric side of things. The baby was born blue with a heart rate of sixty. We worked on that tiny thing for almost an hour but he just never had a chance.
When everything had calmed down I looked around the delivery room. Everyone was crying. Except me.
I sat in a rocking chair for hours in the dark of an empty room on the OB floor, looking out at the lights of the city and wondering what the hell was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I be upset? Why couldn’t I cry about this baby? Was it because of how young I started with death?
I just don’t know.
After having kids, now even the thought of a baby dying or a kid suffering makes me tear up. Perhaps it was just a matter of having a context?
So what to do about my son right now? How honest am I supposed to be with a four year old about death and dying?
I decided on being open about it. “Yes, hon, babies die and little kids die.”
“But mommy, I don’t want to die…” The sob was starting to edge into his voice.
So we talked about dying, how mommy has been with many people as they were dying, what happens and why and that one way or another mommy would be with him if that ever happened.
Then, we talked about heaven. Streets paved with gold, pearly gates, mansions…he wasn’t digging it. So I told him there would be corn dogs…all of the corn dogs he could eat (with ketchup) if he wanted. That was the ticket. Within two minutes he had relaxed and drifted off to sleep.
So there you have it, folks. Corn dogs. Corn dogs in heaven? I think heaven HAS to be different things for different people. For my son it will have corn dogs.