Before we left for Philadelphia and when we got there, a few folks asked about how I’d handle telling Grace why we were going home and what I’d be doing with her for the funeral. We typically try to be as honest as we can with our kids – based on what we think they can handle, what they actually need to know and making sure whatever we tell them is in line with their ages (read: I won’t be mortified if they repeat it to their friends. Haha.)
Grace did ask me why we had to go home on the way to the airport. I told her that we had a family emergency and I needed to go home to be with Gram and Pop. She asked, “Emergency? What’s that?” I said that an emergency was an important situation that needed to be taken care of immediately. I then followed by telling her that my “gram” (which is what she calls her grandmothers) – or Gram Flannery’s mom – had passed away and we needed to go home to go to church to say some prayers for her and give Gram some hugs. She was good with that for a few minutes. She then asked, “Is your Gram an angel now?” I told her yes, my Gram was an angel now. And she said, “And she’s sleeping?” I said, “Yes. She’s sleeping happily.”
My kids have lost three great-grandparents in recent years, and because they were part of the regular crew at family functions, we’ve had to answer questions about where they were. The concept of angels came into play when Kenny’s grandmother passed away right after we moved to Oregon. My kids immediately noticed she wasn’t in “her chair” when they went home to visit on Christmas. Seeing that they were five and three at the time – you can imagine that was certainly an emotional moment for everyone. At the same time, it was kind of a special and happy moment (well, to me, anyway!) because they remembered her, missed her presence at our family party, and thought enough to ask about her. I believe great grandpop told them great grandmom was an angel now and the concept stuck.
Recalling that, Grace’s next question was, “Is she an angel like my other angel grandmom?” Yes, Grace. Yes, she is.
Sadly, Gavin and Grace didn’t get to know great grandmom Newman very well. She had been in a nursing home and was suffering with dementia for a few years before either of them were born. Apparently Grace picked up on that, because over the course of the next 36 hours, she asked many questions about her great grandmom Newman. And many questions about angels.
- Grace: Did you love her?
- Me: Yes, of course.
- Grace: As much as I love Gram?
- Me: Yep!
- Grace: As much as I love you? and Dad?
- Me: Sure!
- Grace: Do you ‘member her?
- Me: Yep.
- Grace: Was she young? or old?
- Me: She was young like you once. And young like me once. And young like Gram, but right now she is 81.
- Grace (giant eyes): 81? That’s VERRRRRRRY old. Then she giggled.
- Grace: Was she nice?
- Me: Yes, she was very nice. She loved mommy, and Uncle Dennis and Uncle Kevin and Alexandrea very much. She also loved Gram and Aunt Debbie and Uncle Johnny.
- Grace: Did she love me? and Gavin?
- Me: Yes. And I am sure she wishes she was able to spend time playing with you.
- Grace: Well, then, why did she want to be an angel?
- Me: She was very tired. And I think when you become an angel, you get a lot of rest.
- Grace: Is she happy she’s an angel?
- Me: I would think so. She’s up in heaven with the other angels. And it’s supposed to be very nice there.
- Grace: Why do we have to go to church?
- Me: To say some prayers for great grandmom.
- Grace: Why do we have to say prayers?
- Me: To send our best wishes for her up to heaven.
- Grace: Like what kind of prayers?
- Me: Like whatever you want. You can just ask God to watch over her and keep her safe.
- Grace: Can I ask him to take care of her? And make sure she eats her dinner? And give her snacks?
- Me: Yes.
The night before the funeral, we were laying in bed talking about school friends and who she missed at home. She suddenly sat up and leaned over my body. She put her face very close to mine.
- Grace (with big eyes): Wait. Is she going to become an angel AT church? Like this? (making a circle with her hands on the top of her head for a halo). Like this? (Moving her arms up and down like flapping wings).
- Me: No, she’ll just be sleeping. She’s already an angel.
- Grace: Why is she sleeping?
- Me: She’s very tired. She had a long life and now needs to rest.
- Grace: I like to sleep when I get tired. I like to sleep when I am cranky, too.
At the funeral, we set Grace up in the back of the church. She had snacks and activities – and plenty of company (family and family friends) to keep her calm and occupied. At one point, she called me over.
- Grace while pointing her chubby little four-year-old index finger three times towards the front of the church: I want to see her.
- Me (trying to stall while I decided if this was a smart idea. I knew in my gut it wasn’t.): Great grandmom?
- Grace: Yes. (and she started shuffling to the end of the pew.)
- Me: Well, she’s sleeping and there are other people visiting with her right now. (Phew.) Why don’t we check out the pictures instead?
- Grace (big smile): OK!
- Me: Giant sigh of relief.
She asked two more times if she could see her, and each time I was able to divert her attention. My grandmom looked beautiful and peaceful. But I would rather Grace remember her through pictures and stories.
While sitting in the airport Sunday on the way home, Grace had one last question for me.
- Grace: Do you miss your Gram?
- Me: Yes, Grace.
- Grace: Me, too.
She paused, then said, “I miss my whole fam-a-lee! But it’s OK. It’s OK. I can take two airplanes to see them. Not three, Mom. I only like to take two.” And then she scampered off the chair to play toys.