When My Son Asked Me, 'Mommy, How Far Away Is Heaven?'
Chancellor and I were in Estes Park for the 4th of July last year just like I had spent almost every 4th of July since I was a little girl.
I have very blissful memories of Alex and I running around Lake Estes and having KFC picnics with our parents and their good friends Patty and Jim. I had a few close friends over to celebrate good ole Independence Day at my grandparents’ cabin. All of the kids were sprinting around and splashing in water buckets and the adults were busy barbecuing a feast fit for a king. You could say it was a very stereotypical summer celebration.
The next day after the festivities I cleaned the house, and started to pack up our bags to go home. As I was headed into the house to get the last bag, Chancellor was standing in the doorway. I smiled and him and he looked at me very worried.
“Did Uncle die?”
I felt like someone knocked the wind out of me. A million thoughts raced through my head. Did he overhear someone talking about Alex? Does he know what that means? What the hell should I say? So I quickly decided I wanted to always be honest, but wanted the information he receives to be age appropriate. I bent down so he could see my eyes and softly said, “Yes. Uncle died, but you don’t have to worry about him because he is safe now and he is in heaven.” He didn’t ask more questions that day, and I can’t tell you how relieved I was.
I’m sure you are wondering, “Didn’t he go to the funeral?” No. He did not go to the funeral, nor the rosary, nor the viewing. The biggest reason being that at the time he did not understand what dead meant. He had no conception of death, or what the true finality of death meant. I did not feel like it was appropriate to expose him to something that he simply could not understand.
The other reason was that I did not want him to worry about me. I was an absolute wreck the weeks following Alex’s death. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t remember to drink water and I could not stop crying. When I did finally sleep my husband said I cried the entire night. I could literally feel my heart splitting in my chest. I didn’t want Chancellor to see me like that. Allowing a babysitter to watch him during the services gave me the energy to focus on my parents and focus on my own grief. Taking care of a toddler is challenging while trying to grieve.
Days have passed and the seasons have changed, but Alex is still gone. My mom made a picture album filled with smiling pictures of Chancellor and Alex together. They really thought the world of each other. Chancellor looks at the album often and we talk about what they were doing in each picture. He knows that his uncle was brave, strong, played the guitar, was a sucker for saying yes and was the world’s best wrestler. I will do anything to keep his memory alive for Chancellor, because Alex deserves that.
New Year’s Eve brought out the fireworks in full force in my neighborhood. There was explosion after explosion for hours. Every time I would hear a bang, my heart sank. I hated it. Chancellor was scared too and asked if he could come cuddle in my bed, and of course I obliged. The fireworks continued for the next couple of nights and like clockwork Chancellor crawled into bed with me.
This morning as I was getting out of the shower, Chancellor was still lying in my bed. He sat up and said, “Mommy, how far away is heaven?” Curious to what he was thinking I said, “It’s very far away. Why do you ask?”
He explained that he wanted to see his uncle, asking that if we could just go visit him in Heaven, if we could tell him he needs to go to the doctor. And if he goes to the doctor then he won’t be sick anymore and he can come home. Right? I could feel my entire body move while I let out a sigh of heartbreak, “No baby, he can’t come home and I am so sorry.”
Lord knows, I wish it was that easy. There my sweet blue eyed baby sat so innocent and naïve to the evils of this world wondering what in the world he had to do just so he could visit his Uncle. Explaining Heaven and not being able to see someone he so much loved and cherished is difficult. As he grows things will start to come together and make more sense, and when that time comes I will be here to answer all of the hard questions that will come along with it. In the meantime, I will be forever grateful of the strong relationship that Chancellor and Alex shared, and that we will always have him in our lives. Either on Earth or in Heaven, our love remains the same.
Follow this journey on Me Minus Alex.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
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Lead photo provided by contributor