We were leaving our bedrooms at the same time. Abbey came running into the hallway and ran right into my legs and grabbed hold of me.
“What’s the matter, Sweetie Pie?” I asked. I had to ask a few more times before she found her voice.
“I don’t want you to die,” Abbey answered through her tears, somewhere between a wail and a moan. I scooped her up and carried her back into my bedroom so we could talk this out. Obviously, someone said something or she saw something that made her think of death. Or maybe she started thinking too much. I have vivid memories of the first nights I thought about death. I was about her age or younger. But I never ran to my mother to talk it out.
“Tell me what you were thinking about,” I prodded. It was all very logical, really. She and Hannah were talking about how long they planned to live, or something like that. Hannah told Abbey that she couldn’t live 2,000 years, and Abbey realized that she would die much sooner than she’d like. When she thought about her death, she realized that my death would come even sooner. And that made her very sad and afraid. “If you die, I’ll be so sad. And I’ll be alone. I don’t want to be alone.” She said that last bit quite dramatically, “I don’t want to be alooooooone.”
I let her sob into my shoulder a few times to give myself a moment to feel again that childlike fear of the unknown, of not being in control, of helplessness, of being alone. But then I felt a different kind of sadness that I guess only a parent knows: I was sad that I couldn’t fix this problem for her. Yes, I am going to die. Yes, one day (when her parents die and her older siblings die) she may be alone. I comforted her the same way I comfort myself when the truth overwhelms me.
“God makes a promise to his children. He says, ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.’ So, even if all the people that you know are gone, you will always have Jesus with you.”
“He’s inside me,” she said.
“Yes, and as you get older, you’ll learn to talk to him more and to listen to him.”
“Does it hurt to die?” she asked.
I chuckled and said, “I don’t know. I haven’t died before.”
“And when you die you won’t be able to tell me if it hurts because you’ll be dead.”
“That is true,” I said, and we laughed together. I stared at her, trying to memorize her face in this moment: reddened eyes, puffy lips, pink nose, tears on her cheeks, and smiling with no teeth.
She thought for a moment, and said, “But when I die, I’ll know if it hurts or not. And when I see you in heaven, we can talk about it. I’ll give you a hug and say, ‘Did it hurt?’ And you’ll tell me.”
“Alright. But if it does hurt, I think it will only seem like a moment. Jesus said that whoever believes in Him will never die. In this life, it looks like death because our bodies die, but there’s a part of us that never dies. Death here is really just the door to real life. I think it will be more like waking up in the morning to the most beautiful day you’ve ever seen.”
“What is heaven like?”
“Well, the Bible says that there’s no pain, or sadness, or sickness. There’s no sin and we’ll be able to see Jesus.”
“NO SIN?!” She interrupted and jumped up on her knees.
“Nope, no more sin. You and I will be perfect.”
“That’ll be awesome. But I’ll still be sad when you die.”
“It’s okay to be sad when someone you love dies. But remember that when I die here, I’ve just gone to heaven where I’ll be even more alive. Nobody’s dead where Jesus is.”
“Is that where Granddaddy is?”
“Yes. And Grandmommy misses him a lot, but she’s happy he’s alive in heaven and that she’ll see him when she gets there.”
By this time, Abbey was sufficiently comforted and happy again. She went back to bed, and I’m here contemplating a great many things.