Dear Baby Girl, I’m Sorry About the Hard Things
Dear Baby Girl,
It’s 12:18am and you cry out in your sleep.
I stand by your bedside, rubbing your arm. Whispering, “It’s ok,” as you roll around, unawake.
A nightmare is disturbing your calm, child-like slumber. Something in your dreams is unsettling you, scaring you. I watch you wrestle with a hard thing somewhere beneath your consciousness, in a place I can’t reach.
And I think I know what it is.
Your new awakening to death is ravaging your rest.
Hours earlier, we all sat around the dinner table, and among the banter and spills and “just three more bites,” you asked The Question. The one that must be asked. The one that must be answered.
The one I dreaded.
“Mommy, Daddy, what does ‘died’ mean?”
How does one put death into words? How do I explain to a four-year-old that someone can be here and then suddenly they are somewhere else? How can that be?
“Honey, when people die, their body stops working. They stop breathing and their heart stop beating. It’s like they are sleeping, but they never wake up again. They stop being alive.”
I see the struggle to comprehend, the flash of fear in those probing eyes of yours.
And I realise how many times I said stop. Your whole world until now has known start: start life, startwalking, start talking, start doing chores. You ask when you can start school, start sitting in the front, startballet.
But to stop?
How foreign it is to you. How foreign it is to me still.
We try to explain how a person’s soul leaves his body and goes to live in Heaven or Hell. That our only hope to survive death is to enter God’s family.
“But Mommy, how long does it take?”
Another question. Oh sweet girl, what a question. How long does it take? The transition from life to death? From earth to eternity?
And so we struggle to answer as best we can.
Because being sure of something doesn’t make us comfortable with it.
And the truth that has sunk to the pit of my stomach is that I can’t shrink the vast mystery of death into something that will fit into your child-sized world.
And so your world must grow to make room for it instead. And I watch those growing pains as you dream restlessly.
I’m sorry, my sweet, innocent girl. I’m sorry that such a deep, dark, scary thing as death exists. I’m sorry that your eyes must open to it and your mind must expand with it and your heart must wrestle with it.
You lost something tonight.
A little piece of blissful unawareness exchanged for this frightening knowledge of ending.
And I hate it. Because I know that this is only the first. As your childhood merges into this thing called growing up, there are many more hard truths that you will have to uncover.
That people hate and are scared of other people just because they look different.
That mommy’s just like me must watch helplessly as their precious little ones just like you waste away because they are hungry and thirsty and sick.
That some mommies and daddies break up and live in separate houses.
That lots of little boys and little girls go to bed each night wishing, praying, hoping for a mommy and daddy, because they are all alone in the world.
That grown ups do really, really, really bad things to one another because of greed and hate and lust and the love of power.
If these unspeakable realities lie heavy in my grown-up heart, how can your little heart possibly bear their weight?
And yet bear their weight it must. And that’s what I am here for. I will teach you…
To carry the heavy things carefully without being crushed.
To guard the sacred things closely without being broken.
To handle the hard things directly without becoming callous.
To question life’s injustices fiercely without doubting God’s goodness.
To deal with the unfathomable things thoughtfully so that you are spurred to God-motivated, Christ-centred, Holy Spirit-empowered actions.
Sweet little one, this is where your childhood begins its end.
And Baby Girl, mama’s here, ok?
Allison Van Der Walt
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