Ben was only 17 months old when my grandfather (Poppy) passed away. In fact, Ben caused a bit of chaos the day of the funeral because he spiked a fever, which meant he couldn’t go to child care that day. So, I did what any good mom does…I gave him some Tylenol, packed my bag full of snacks, put him in a stroller and prayed he wouldn’t be too noisy. Lucky for me, and everyone else at church, he slept through the whole mass and stayed with my mother in law during the burial.
Now when I say I prayed for him to stay quiet, I use that as a figure of speech. My husband and I were raised Catholic, but we are not practicing and don’t actually believe in much of what that particular religion teaches. We celebrate Christmas and Easter, but strictly from a Santa Claus and Easter Bunny standpoint. Sure, sometimes I miss the pomp and circumstance of mass (especially on Christmas Eve because I love the music) and find myself wondering if the community of a church is something that would benefit my family, but there have not been many, if any, times that I feel lacking without religion.
That’s until Ben started talking about (and sometimes seeing) Poppy. One day, while waiting in the car at the ferry landing, Ben saw a man sitting on a bench and asked why Poppy was there. Completely out of the blue. It was the first time Ben had ever mentioned him… and the man looked nothing like my grandfather. He’s seen photos, but we don’t have any displayed in our house and haven’t talked about him often enough that someone Ben’s age would remember Poppy. Every so often Ben thinks he sees Poppy or asks a question about him.
This past weekend, Ben was talking about him a lot and stated that he wanted to bring Poppy something. And then, the million dollar question. He wanted to know where Poppy lives. Hmmm…how do I explain that Poppy passed away and is buried at a cemetery. I wanted to be practical without scaring him. I didn’t want to talk about Heaven because I don’t believe in it and didn’t want to take the easy way out. I choked and told him that Poppy lives in the sky. My husband went on to tell him that Poppy lives in his memories and his heart. That was a bit too abstract I think, so Ben held on to the sky concept. Oops.
What should I have told him?
Either way, Ben decided that since it’s autumn now, Poppy needed a pumpkin. So we stopped at Stew Leonard’s so Ben could pick one out, then went to bring it to Poppy.
Next time, Ben thinks we should bring him “a toy or something.” We agreed to make ornaments for the small Christmas trees planted near his headstone.