questions i can’t answer

Like many 5-year olds, Maya is a really, really inquisitive kid. Like me, she’s also very sensitive and in tune to how others around her are feeling.

And she asks about Rachel a lot.

Sometimes I stumble because I don’t want her to have anxiety about or fear “going to the hospital” simply because she knows that is where Rachel died.

But the questions come — sometimes out of nowhere, sometimes when approaching school (Rachel’s son — who she was in the process of adopting at the time of her death and has since been adopted by her husband–attends the same school as my kids), and every time  she’s been with my mom. In fact, she even told my mom at Thanksgiving that the reason she talks to her about it or asks her questions sometimes is she doesn’t like to make Mommy sad and knows talking about Rachel makes Mommy sad.

Heart. Is. Breaking.

I know she is young to process all this, but I don’t believe in sheltering children completely from death, either — it’s a fact of life. That’s why I don’t hide my tears from her. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong but in my mind, this is part of life and I may be Maya’s mommy but I am also human. I want her to know it’s OK to cry. To feel.

After Rachel died, my mom got her a great book called Lifecycles — written for children in a way that explains how every living thing has  a lifecyle: plants, animals and people. I found it comforting even as an adult.

And so since I don’t cut off discussions about death, the  questions come — fast and furious, one after the other, and often at bed-time — when her guard is down or her little thought train is running rampant. And even though I’ve answered them before, she still wants to know again. It’s her way of processing, I suppose.

How did she die? Well, Rachel was having surgery at the hospital and something went really wrong and her heart stopped.

But you had surgery and had me and Benny. You have a scar … Yes, I did and I do. Most surgeries go OK. Mommy is here. And see, here’s my scar. Mommy is OK.

Well but where did she GO? Well … she went to heaven. It’s a place where people go when they die.

So is heaven the sky? Well, sort of. Not the sky you can see, but a very special place way way high up like where G-d is. He takes care of her now.

In space? (silence from me. Every time we get to a point where I realize  I’m helplessly ill-equipped for these questions but I am her mother … )

Will she come back from heaven? No, honey. I wish she could so much  … but she can’t come back from heaven. But we have memories and pictures. Rachel loved you very much, Maya. Your pink puppy–that’s from Rachel. And your sparkly hot pink purse, and your Build-a-Bear. Rach gave you those things. And she loved to give you big hugs! She loved visiting you at our house. And she loved Benny too.

Can I see her again? No honey … you can’t. But you can pictures of her on Mommy’s phone.

The hardest of all her questions was the day Rach died, when Maya asked, Who will take care of baby Tyler? (She didn’t remember meeting Rach’s husband). I told her, with tears streaming down my face, that Tyler’s daddy would take care of him.

I’ve answered each of these questions carefully over the past nine months since she passed away, but it doesn’t get easier. In fact, it gets harder — she doesn’t know she’s rubbing salt on an open wound; in her mind, she is just trying to process it all. That someone she knew and spent time with is gone.

Not gone like her grandparents and aunts and uncles who visit, or who we visit … but truly gone from this earth. Not here any longer.

I still have so many questions myself — questions that keep me up at night, spinning in my head … even if I know the answers already.

Did she feel any pain? (No, everyone assures me she was under anesthesia and just never woke up; she was wholly unaware that an entire team of doctors were trying to resuscitate her for an hour in the operating room). Could the blood clot(s) have been detected sooner? (No one knows; it/they may have been there all along — with having had so many surgeries for Crohn’s in the past, it’s hard to say). Was I her last text message?  (This one is selfish; I know we had texted the night before up til bedtime for our boys, and I had texted her that morning — and she wrote back on the way to the hospital at like 6 AM. But really,  who she last texted doesn’t really matter–everyone she loved knew she loved them … and every time I add the blowing kisses emoji to a text I think of her: her signature sign-off to me and probably many others).

But the most important question I have …

Was she put here on this earth to save Tyler? I am leaning towards yes, that her purpose here was to be his savior; she was the catalyst for his foster-to-adopt process. It was her who gave him a lease on life.

And if that is true … I just wish she didn’t have to die in order for that to happen–for her parents, for her brother, for her son, for her friends and family’s sakes.  And as her friend, I wish that I could have seen her grow into the amazing mother I know her to be — the mother she was to her step-kids and to  Tyler  that 18 months or so that she had with him. ❤

I don’t know when Maya’s line of questioning will stop — if it ever will. I don’t want her to be afraid to talk to me or Luis about it. I want her to know she can confide in us, no matter how painful (to me) her questions may be.

But mostly, I love that Rachel’s beautiful memory lives on — she made quite an impression on my daughter … and a lifelong impression on me.


2 thoughts on “questions i can’t answer

  1. Wow. Well handled. That’s really tough – talking about death with Nate isn’t usually too difficult, but the worst day was the one where he put 2 and 2 together and asked me if I was going to die one day. And today I explained adoption, which is beautiful as we think about it – but necessitates a conversation about why some parents would give up their children (or die). Yikes.

    I have a friend who posts things like this and then writes: Parenting. Not for wusses.

    So true. And it’s really nice to see you remember your friend Rachel in such positive ways. Even now, she’s helping Maya to grow and learn.

    1. Thanks so much, Candice. YES–adoption is a toughie — glad you guys had that chat!! HA–SO much truth!! NOT FOR WUSSES!
      I love thinking that; thank you!–she had so much to give, and even in her death, there are lessons she continues to teach/impacts us all.

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