We’ve had days of rain. As such, ants have sought shelter in our house. Sophie, who is usually fearful of bugs, loves ants. She calmly points them out to us. She talks to them. She tries to convince them to march into her bug house. She wasn’t so happy when they dined on the jelly beans in her Easter basket, but she was quick to forgive. In short, she considers them friends.
Several evenings ago Sophie was trying to convince a particularly stubborn ant into her bug house when Andy discovered the ant wasn’t stubborn at all—it was dead. I was in the kitchen, cooking dinner, when I heard him say “dead.”
“Drew,” I said. “She doesn’t know death.”
He managed to redirect her attention elsewhere (most likely, another live ant—we have enough of them). I’m thankful he did.
Sophie is 3. And for three years she hasn’t known that someday she will no longer be, as she is, in this world. She doesn’t know that someday I will die. Andy will die. Her brothers will die. Tucker and Mia will die. Everyone she knows and loves will die.
She’s known two dogs who have died—Molly and Droopy. And if I remember correctly, we told her they died but we didn’t stress the point. She was young, much younger than she is now. It’s been many, many months since she’s talked about them. I believe she remembers them, but I also think she hasn’t taken the time to truly consider what their absence meant and means.
And while she someday must know, really know what death means, the absolute finality of it, I hope it’s years from now, not days, not months. I dread the conversation, in part, because Andy and I disagree about what happens after death. And I am uncertain in my beliefs. I’m still reading, searching, hoping, seeking. So I don’t know what to say to her. But even if we both were to blanket her in the comfort of heaven, a blanket I often curl up in myself, death is still tragic. It means no longer sinking your teeth into a sweet orange or hugging someone so tight that you can smell the morning soap on their skin. You can’t hold the hand of someone who has died. You can’t bake them a birthday cake and offer them the spoon to lick. You can’t say the words you always meant to say. Because even if you believe a loved one who has died is in a better place, they’re no longer here, with you. And when you die, you’re no longer here, with them. And it’s just so damn certain. And final. Jesse Tuck’s spring doesn’t exist.
Many find comfort in death. But I don’t like unknowns. So I find it scary—way scarier than any ugly monster hiding under a bed. And I can only imagine she will, too—no matter how carefully we present it and how hard I try to keep my own fear out of it.
Once Sophie knows death, she’ll never be able to forget it. So I don’t want her to know it, until she must.
If you look out any back, second-story window of our house, you can see the green grass, large pines, and the antique statues and stones that dot St. Stephen Cemetery. It’s beautiful.
It’s also one of my favorite places to walk.
Not sure what to call this place when with Sophie, my mom suggested “the remembering place.” The explanation is simple and satisfying. “This is where people go to remember those they love,” I say. Sophie understands love. She understands remembrance. This satisfies her, for now.
So we walk the paths of this beautiful place and I think about 18-year-old Mabel, and all that she witnessed, and all that she missed.
I think about the person who put a rosary around this woman’s neck.
I think about William Madden, born 1871 and died 1930, and then I think more about his wife, Minnie A. Madden, born 1873 and died 1966. How did she she live those long years of her life, after her love was gone?
And then I read one of the many (too many) stones that have a little lamb on top. And I think of 2-year-old Charles and my heart grows heavy. I think of my frustrations with Sophie that morning, how she just won’t listen. I think of how tired the boys make me, constantly picking up, putting down, feeding, changing, loving. I think of the editing I have to do once the children are in bed, the dirty dishes in the sink, the pile of laundry on the couch. And then I look back at this stone, or any of the lamb stones. And that little lamb is like the universe slapping me in the face. Waking me up. Reminding me of what I have, what others lost, and what I will, someday, lose. And I am grateful.
I am grateful.
I am grateful.
I look at the new spring leaves, the long tree shadows …
and the flowers Sophie took the time to notice, and smell, at the gate.
I then look at Sophie, blithely blowing seeds, making wishes and unknowingly planting new life in grass that blankets life that once was.
I walk among the stones, statues, angels and lambs …
in our backyard Remembering Place and remember those I love who are no longer on this earth—and love those who are living. And just like Andy, redirecting Sophie’s attention to the ants still moving, I redirect mine, not to what will someday be, but what is, now, here, today. I find myself at peace with Sophie’s ignorance, and hope that she will be better able to cradle the concept in her brain that someday, she will no longer be. And I find myself at peace knowing that she, most definitely, will be remembered.
“No one knows whether death is really the greatest blessing a man can have, but they fear it is the greatest curse, as if they knew well.” —Plato