Thursday, April 29, 2010

Joel's Thoughts about Heaven

I haven't posted in awhile because I haven't known how to.  I have felt...choked up inside, I guess, and I haven't know how to get anything out.  My mind and heart have been a jumble of emotions and thoughts, and I've felt lost about how to put those thoughts and emotions into words and on our blog.  So I haven't written anything.  Everyday at nap time, I think, "Maybe today I can blog.  Can I?....I don't know where to start.  Maybe tomorrow..."  So today I simply decided that I'm starting somewhere.  I'm starting with Joel.

A couple of days after Easter, Joel and I were watering the Japanese maple we planted in memory of Samuel.  We call it "The Samuel Tree."  It's beautiful now with deep, rich red leaves.  I love looking at it, and watering it is something the boys and I often do together.  As I was tipping the watering can over the tree and Joel was splashing his hands in the pouring water, he looked up and asked me, "Is Samuel alive?"  I have learned not to be alarmed by Joel's repeated questions regarding Samuel's death.  Judy, our grief counselor, taught us that until children are around 6 years old, they cannot grasp the finality of death; they believe it is reversible.  So I wasn't bothered by the question though I was curious about its inverse order.  Usually Joel asks if Samuel is dead, so asking if he was alive was new.  I told him compassionately, "No, honey, Samuel is not alive.  Samuel is dead."  He paused and looked back up at me: "But is Jesus alive?"  I was pretty stunned by the connection he was making.  Joel had understood something of the story of Easter.  Jesus was dead, but He didn't stay dead.  He rose from the dead and is now alive.  Joel followed that and connected it to Samuel.  If Samuel was dead, did he have to stay dead when Jesus didn't?  I was speechless for a minute because it had never occured to me that Jesus' resurrection would confuse my not yet three year old, but it makes perfect sense.  I had just never seen it from that perspective before.   I tried to explain how special Jesus is and how it's a miracle that Jesus didn't stay dead.  But the concept of a miracle was harder to explain than I'd anticipated.  I didn't want him to think it was magic, and I am not at all sure he followed what I said.  He did, however, seem to understand that Samuel is still dead even though Jesus was resurrected.

At the breakfast table a few days later, Joel said to me with a shrug in his shoulder, "Momma, I don't know how to get to Heaven.  How do you get there?  Do you walk?  Take a car?  What?"  Again, Joel's perspective had never occured to me.  In his mind Heaven must be a place like Italy is a place or Turkey is a place.  Just as my cousin has gone to Italy for his final semester of college, and my mom is in Turkey for four months, so Samuel must be on a trip to Heaven.  All three people he loves are "gone," and he can't distinguish the difference between a journey and death.  I am grateful for these moments that help me understand what he's thinking and that enable me to try and explain, however inadequately, about death. 

As a result of Joel's literal mind, I have learned not to use with him (or really with anyone) the softening language we tend to prefer in America like "lost."  Samuel is not lost.  He is the exact opposite of lost.  I don't know why we even think lost is a more comforting term than dead.  Imagine being lost for eternity.  That sounds horrible.  "Gone" is equally undesirable in my opinion and confusing for children.  Why are we so afraid of the truth?  Why are we afraid to say dead? 

The other thing Joel has asked numerous times lately is, "Are there toys in Heaven?"  He clearly spends time wondering what Samuel is up to and if Samuel is happy.  I told him what my mom told me when I was a kid and was worried that my pets wouldn't be in Heaven with me: "Joel, I don't know.  But I do know this.  Heaven will have whatever we need to be truly happy."  Joel decided that there are, indeed, toys in Heaven. 

I am still surprised by how often Samuel is on Caleb and Joel's minds, but in some ways it comforts me.  I am glad they think of him as part of the family and want to know that he's happy and cared for.  I want to know that too.  And I'm so thankful that I can know it. 


  1. It's amazing to hear what kids are thinking...I would never have thought that someone so young could grapple with such big thoughts!

  2. Thanks for posting this Kathryn. Your stories about the boys sort of break my heart and warm my soul at the same time. The way they miss their little brother and ask about him and heaven...I don't even have words.