Religilicious: June 2008 Archives

Liam asked me the most brilliant question yesterday. As I slipped on my heels I leaned over and explained to him that his grandmother and dad were going to be sad today and that he may see them cry. He knew why as Chris and I've had the Second Biggest Talk with him, the talk about death and dying which rightfully precedes the discussion of birds and bees. (Which we haven't had yet. We may be mourning me when we do.)

I told him that we were mourning the death of his great-grandfather.

"What is mourning?" he asked.

"Mourning is when we cry and are upset because we lost someone or something. After we lose someone, we're sad and that's called mourning." 

"Oh." I thought we were finished and went to reach for my earrings when he figuratively socked me in the gut:

"Why do people mourn? What are they mourning?"

I was overcome by all the ways I could answer this. People mourn a loved one's company. They mourn the guiding presence lost with an elderly person and the loss of potential with a young person. We mourn because we miss a person, for sure. Because maybe we worry about the state of their soul in the afterlife: were they welcomed into the pearly gates to the sound of a thousand angels singing, were they told "Well done, my good and faithful servant?" Or are they sitting in some sort of waiting room purgatory worse than that of a doctor's office? Or ... what if they believed in nothing? That's something about which I worry, depending on whom we're mourning.

I think there's another, larger reason for why we mourn. We're never more aware of our own mortality than when standing next to a casket paying our last respects.

Ten years ago I was one of "the grandkids." My mom and her brothers and sisters were "the kids." My grandparents were simply "Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa." And then they passed away and we all climbed one step up on this giant generational staircase. My mom and her brothers and sisters are now the "grandmas and grandpas." My cousins and me are now "the kids." My own children, all the great-grandchildren, are now "the grandkids." We'll all take another step up again, and again, inevitable, scary steps. 

I'm sad over losing my family traditions under my grandparents and having to make my own, but when you strip it all away it's really just sadness and anxiety about how all of this will end one day. I believe in the existence of a somewhere beyond the blue and the beckoning of angels et al. (name that hymn!) but this is all I've ever known. The notion of going from one world where I've defined myself by my relationships - a wife, a mother, a daughter, a friend -  to another world where those relationships are irrelevant (i.e. Jesus says in the Gospel that we're not married nor given in marriage in Heaven) kind of unsettles me. It's a mild crisis of self-definition.

And all of this flew through my head and the moment where I stood in my closet staring at Liam and messing with my earrings seemed like an hour. I knew that he wouldn't understand this, and that it may confuse or frighten him, so for the moment, I responded with a simple "because we miss that person's company and that's what we mourn." The answer satisfied him. It didn't satisfy me.

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Dana asks: "Thanksgiving Traditions: Yours or Your Mother's?"