Why a four-year-old boy doesn’t want to live.
Written May 30, 2001
I don’t know why Adam waits until bedtime to start these little talks. Maybe he senses my guard is down and it’s a good time to throw me another curve ball. Tonight was no exception.
“Grandma, I want to die”
Of course, you can imagine my shock at hearing this. I tried to keep my voice even as I asked him why he wanted to die. I already had a pretty good idea of what his answer was going to be.
“So I can be an angel and live with Cassy.”
“I want you to die too so I and you can both be angels and live with Cassy in heaven.”
I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place right about now. How am I going to explain not wanting to die, when I’ve told him how wonderful angels and heaven are? I’m wondering how such a small child can present such big problems for me to solve. I’m really wishing for “Why is the sky blue?” and “Why do my hands and feet get wrinkles when I take a bath?” questions. I think I’d even settle for the birds and the bee’s talk, rather than what he’s hitting me with. But, the question has already been thought of and asked, so once again, I ask my severely sleep-deprived brain to nudge just a few more brain cells before I can go to sleep. I try to stall for time.
“Why do you want us to die and be angels and live with Cassy in heaven?”
“Because bugs, spiders and cops won’t hurt you in heaven.”
OK. Bugs and spiders I can handle. But where did the cops come in??? I am so totally unready for this. I’m lying in bed, exhausted from a very long day, and I have to fit together bugs, spiders and cops, all in one puzzle. But I don’t have a box with a picture on it to show me what it’s supposed to look like! Sigh. Bugs and spiders first.
“Bugs and spiders won’t hurt you here if you don’t hurt them. Remember the lady bug and the tiny green spider on my car?”
He's still for a few seconds, mulling this information. It’s a brief respite for which I am very grateful. I still don’t know how I’m going to answer the cops’ issue. The respite isn’t nearly long enough.
“But cops are bad and they’ll hurt you.”
“Why do you say that?”
I can’t figure out why or where this came from, since I’ve always told him how cops are good and help us. I never imagined his answer. Never.
“The cops hurt Cassy and came here and told you she was dead.”
My mind flashed back to that horrible day when the state troopers met me at my car when I arrived home, with the terrible duty of telling me my child had been killed. I remembered how I felt when I understood what they were telling me. I imagined the look Jen said I had on my face, that told her something really bad had happened. I remembered screaming over and over, “No, my baby!” I remember collapsing to the ground, begging God for it to not be true and ask why it hadn’t been me instead of Cassy. I tried to piece together the missing parts from that period of time, wondering what Adam had heard and seen. I realized, in his mind, the cops came and the next thing he knew, all hell had broken loose.
“The cops didn’t hurt Cassy, Adam. They tried to help her, but they didn’t get there in time. Cassy was dead when they got there. It was too late for them to help her. They wanted to help her. They didn't want to, but it was their job to come and tell me she was dead. It made them very sad.”
“Why didn’t they hurry and help her?”
“It happened too fast. It happened too fast for anyone to help her. There were a lot of people who wanted to help Cassy, but no one could get there fast enough. There was no way anyone could get there in time.”
“If I got there fast enough, I would help Cassy.”
“Yes, I know you would. But it was Cassy’s turn to die, so no one could get there in time to help her.”
There was a moment of silence as he processed all of this. He wasn’t the only one processing what had just been said. My brain was still too foggy to figure out if I had said the right thing or not and if I hadn’t, what to say next.
“Can I still die so I can live with Cassy? I want you to die and come too.”
“We will die when it’s our turn. But until then, we can’t die. We have to wait our turn.”
With that, he turned over in his bed and went right to sleep. Me? Well, here I sit, one thirty in the morning, brain still foggy, writing this down before my brain loses all of its retentive abilities. I’m still wondering if I said the right things. I’m wondering even more, what’s he going to come up with next? I going to be able to handle it?
As tired as I am; as worried as I am; I kinda feel OK about this. There aren’t many people at all that I can talk to about Cassy. Actually, there are just two; my daughter, Jen and my cousin, Maria. They don’t try to tell me how to or not to grieve. They listen. They understand. They let me cry. They give me hugs. It’s nice being able to grieve with them and in front of them. But you know, it’s also nice to be able to talk to Adam about Cassy. His questions are hard. There’s no doubt about that. They’re nerve wracking and leave me wondering for days if I’ve given the right answers. But, I realized tonight, when I’m talking to him, I can be totally open and safe in a way I can’t with an adult. Something about his innocence and matter-of-factness about death makes it easier for me to deal with.
By answering his questions, I’ve helped him.
By answering his questions, I think he’s helped me more.