I’ve been very behind in writing on my blogs lately. We had an extended summer vacation in the States due to the death of my beloved grandfather, “Papo”. Then only three weeks after returning to Japan, we had to make another emergency trip home due to the death of my dear, sweet grandmother, “Mamo”. They died exactly 2 months apart on the same date. July 14th and September 14th. They were married for 62 years and raised 8 children together. After my grandfather’s passing it was not really a surprise that she soon left us to be with him. In life they never liked being apart from each other, so we knew she was eager to join him.
For those of you who don’t know me personally, I had a very strong relationship with my grandparents. I grew up visiting them every Sunday after church and spent every Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving and Easter with them (until I moved to Japan). They were an incredible influence on my life and I cherish the lessons that I learned from them. Losing them both in such a short time has been hard. And explaining death and the afterlife to our daughter has been both challenging and comforting.
In July, we were able to fly to Texas early to spend some time with my grandfather before he passed away. We were able to talk to him and he was able to respond in grunts and simple motions. Violet told him that she loved him and blew him a kiss and even though he was very weak he managed to raise his hand to his mouth to blow one back to her. It is a precious memory that will forever warm my heart. We spent hours singing and praying with him and telling him he was free to go. He had been suffering from illness for a very long time and it was time for him to rest.
When he finally did pass away we were at his house. Violet was in another room and I went to get her. She ran to my arms and said “Mommy where is Papo?” I told her he had passed away. She immediately held my face directly in front of her own and she smiled so big and said, “Mommy, he’s not in pain anymore now. He’s in heaven now right? He is with Grandma Pam. Can I be happy? We can be happy right?” After that I found it difficult to cry. She reminded me to be joyful.
I told her of course she could be happy and after that I had a hard time not feeling a form of happiness too. She smiled and laughed and rejoiced in his home-going. It was amazing. She wanted to go over and see his body. She was confused why his body was still there. She thought it would disappear. But she touched him and felt him and I told her his earthly body is here but his spirit, what we knew him like was gone.
The days following she often stated that she missed him, in fact she still talks about him and how she misses him. She told me that Papo wants her to come to be with him in heaven. That she saw his body turn into a pony when he died and he is a pony now. She asks about if he will come back as someone or something else. She is really interested in this lately and she often talks to me about what she was before and what she will be. We tell her that none of us really knows what happens after we die but what we believe is that we don’t have to have any pain anymore and we can be everywhere with all the people we love even if they can’t see us.
When we had the Rosary, Papo’s casket was open. Violet wanted to go up and see him and touch him over and over. She wanted to give him stickers and put them on his hands. I let her do it as often as I could because she was really expressing a desire to see him. I had to really try hard to keep her in her seat during the service because she kept wanting to get up.
Throughout the service she kept asking me questions about death and heaven and life after death. Questions that I couldn’t answer because I don’t know the answers. I could only answer with my feeble human mind.
Then when she saw me crying she said, “Mama when will my tears come?” I said, “Your tears will come when you are ready. We cry when we are sad or happy or scared or for any other feeling.” Then she pressed her self against my body and looked up at me and said “Mommy, maybe if we press our cheeks together and you touch your eyes to my eyes I can share your tears. Your tears will become my tears.” I was so taken aback by this expression of true empathy out of my child’s mouth and heart. I immediately said, “yes, you can share my tears baby. I will share my tears with you and you can always share your tears with me.” I pressed my cheek to hers and our closed eyes touched. My mascara stained tears rolled down her cheeks and she smiled up at me and said, “See mama, now I have your tears.” All I could do was hug her because I had no words to express the gratitude I felt in my heart for that moment.
My brothers and I sang Amazing Grace at the Rosary and Violet really wanted to sing with us. She really wanted to sing for Papo. She saw me expressing my love for my grandparents through singing to them for the last week and I think she really wanted to do the same. So I let her come up to the microphone with me. She didn’t know the words but she sang her heart out. I struggled to keep it together while listening to her sweet voice in my ear.
At the funeral, Papo’s casket was open in the beginning before the service started so that people who couldn’t make it to the Rosary could see him. Again, Violet wanted to go up to see him again and again. I let her take a couple of turns to say goodbye again. She gave him a few more stickers too. Then when they came to close the casket she became upset. She wanted to see him still. I tried to comfort her and tell her that it was just his body, he wasn’t there anymore. She continued to ask me questions about what happens to a person after they die and where he was. I tried to explain in as best a way I could that he was no longer in pain. He was with Grandma Pam and he would always be with us and around us watching over us.
We continued on to the burial and we stayed until he was lowered into the ground. It was a small group of us at that point. We all threw in some dirt and then Violet wanted to throw some flowers in for him. So we let her.
Since Papo’s passing Violet has continued to talk about him and voice what she thinks he is doing. She is always certain that he is with Grandma Pam and that they are having fun together. One day she told me “Mommy I think Papo is playing with Grandma Pam now.” I asked her “What are they playing?” She looked up and said “I think they are playing golf.” I don’t know how she knew that he loved playing golf. Maybe she overheard someone talking about it. I answered, “yes, I am sure they are.” Another time she told me that Papo was dancing in heaven. He was dancing for joy with Grandma Pam. I love when she shares these thoughts with me because I really do believe that children have a more open mind to the spiritual world. And I love to picture my beloved mother and grandfather doing the things she says they are doing.
Before we left, we had several opportunities to go and visit with my Mamo. Violet seemed to know she was sad and she knew why, without me telling her. Two days before we left we were over visiting with her and Violet asked me if Mamo lived in Japan. And then said she didn’t want to be away from Mamo. She began to cry and said she wanted to be with Mamo. Then she decided she would make a picture for Mamo to remember her by.
She went and drew Mamo a picture and when she brought it to her she told her it was magical.Then she gave Mamo her plastic wand (a toy she had recently become very attached to) and said the picture was “remoted”. She said, “When you touch the wand to the picture a voice comes out.” “Who’s voice?” Mamo said. “Gods voice.” replied Violet. “What does he say?” asked Mamo. “That you are never alone and Papo is always with you.When you feel sad and miss Papo you can use it.” Violet said.
Just before all of this Violet had asked Mamo “who do you sleep with?” Mamo said I sleep alone now. I sleep with angels.” So, Violet made this picture and came up with that whole idea on her own.
She then told her “You have to use it right when you wake up because I know you always miss Papo when you wake up.” Then Mamo said, “Can I use it at bedtime too?” Violet said, “Yes! You can use it anytime when you feel sad and are missing Papo or anyone who is not here anymore. Anyone who is not with you. God will always help you when you feel sad!”
Mamo was so touched. We all were. I could hardly hold back my tears through the whole conversation. It was so precious and so heartfelt.
I am so thankful that we had that time with my dear Mamo before she left this world. My aunt told me that my grandmother had slept with the wand by her bedside and often asked for it when she was in another room.
When she passed away, we were not physically there. It was terribly painful to not be able to say goodbye to her. I felt so much more emotional at her services because of that. Seeing her in the casket, although she looked beautiful, was very difficult for me to bear. Violet really wanted to go up and kiss her and touch her though. So we did.
Violet sat more patiently through these services because it wasn’t new to her anymore. I feel sad that she has had to attend so many funerals in her short life already. But thankful that she seems to really have an understanding of empathy and love.
She often talks about Mamo and cries that she misses her. She asks if we can send her letters or if she could go and see her again. She says things about death that sometimes might disturb others who don’t know why she is so in tune to it right now.
She told me and and my father on her birthday that she wanted to go to heaven and be with Mamo. She told me she wanted to wear her favorite purple party dress when she was in her “box” and that she wanted to be buried with Mamo. She has asked me many times when she is going to die and then will she come back to life as someone else. I always tell her the same thing, that she doesn’t have to worry or be afraid of dying. That no one knows when their time will come. I tell her that Mamo and Papo and Grandma Pam want her to live a long and happy life and then when the time comes they will be there waiting to hold her. This usually seems to satisfy her.
Her heart, her big and beautiful heart is full of so much love and compassion. I am so thankful that she is in my world. She truly gave me so much comfort during this time of loss. Young children can be so resilient and usually can find the positive in things faster than we adults and for that I am thankful.
Have you had to explain death to your children?