Shortly after 4 bedtime stories, 3 goodnight kisses, 2 tuck ins and 1 glass of water, part of an arsenal of light’s out stalling tactics, Mei finally quieted down for sleep. Or maybe not, as evidenced later by a piercing wail, followed by her (rarely sympathetic) older sister calling, “Mom, come quick. Mei is afraid she is going to die!”
Mei clung to me with the Vulcan grip only a frightened 5-year-old can muster, sobbing into my shoulder, “I wish I had never been born a person because people die. I wish I was a wood chip, because they don’t ever die. They only turn to dust.”
My kids always end up at schools where playgrounds are covered with the dusty chips, instead of that bouncy, recycled sneaker surface that costs a bundle. Both girls bring them home in their shoes, folds of clothing, hanging in their hair. Mei likes to cram her pockets full of the wooden nuggets, where they remain hidden until I find a soggy pile at the bottom of the washer.
Despite this close association with dead tree bits, I didn’t know what to say. A comparison between the life cycle of trees and the decay of the human body wasn’t what she needed. So she clung and cried, I soothed and whispered about God’s promises. Death is not the end! Jesus will be with us always! She wasn’t impressed when I couldn’t tell her exactly how God would do all this, and we ended with a little prayer and a vow to reread “When Dinosaurs Die” (best resource for kids and death) in the morning.
Years of theology, preaching funerals and even accompanying others in their dying and I am still at a loss when approached by a five-year-old’s urgent questions about death, which are about as real as you can get. But keep ’em coming. Such questions, which can cling to us like wood chips, make for parenting and life moments that are as real as you can get.