Heaven Can Wait. (Spongebob Saves the Day.)

By Megan

Bean and I sat over lunch the other day and I coaxed her to eat her carrots the same way I always do:  Make sure you eat all those carrots, they’ll help you grow up big and strong.

“Will I be bigger than YOU if I eat my carrots?”

“Well, not immediately bigger than me, but maybe someday you’ll be taller than I am.”

She looks at me thoughtfully and remains quiet for a minute.

“I know when I’ll be bigger than you! I’ll be bigger than you when you get, um, um –,”  she trails off, and a look of worry — almost panic — spreads across her face.

“When you get …” she tries continuing the thought again. “You know, when you get … I can’t say it. When you’re really (she hunches over and shrinks herself up like she’s aged 70 or 80 years in a second) … and you have to walk with a stick.”

“When I get old?” I finish for her, cringing inwardly.

And she starts to cry.

(Dude, weren’t we just, like thirty seconds ago, eatin’ carrots and talkin’ about what to do after lunch? How did we get here?)

“I don’t want you to get old Mama! I don’t want you to get old! I want you to stay just like you are now, forever.

(Turn! Back! Now!)

“I know, B. I don’t really love the idea of getting old, either, but everybody’s always getting older, all the time. That’s just how it works, babe. You’re getting older every minute. Older and bigger and smarter and stronger.”

(Whew! Yes! That’s it, focus her on the positive! Move AWAY from the “old” talk!)

“But Mama if you get old does that mean you’re gonna –”

(Oh, STINKBUCKET! Here we go!)

” — die?”


Sigh. I gather my wits about me and quickly rattle off the best answer I can coax out past the giant lump in my throat. Yep, pretty sure that lump? Is my heart.)

(I mean, hello? She was supposed to remain blissfully unaware of death and dying until I’d sorted out my OWN issues!)

“Yes. Someday I’ll die, but not for a very long time. You’ll probably be my age before I die, honey. Don’t worry about it right now, okay? I won’t die before God is ready for me to, and that means He’ll make sure you’re strong enough to handle it, too.”

(She sobs.)

“Will Nana die?”


“Yes,” I say calmly.

And I just fall silent — I’m a terrified animal trapped in a net, wild-eyed and panicking. I want to shriek and scratch and claw my way out of this discussion.

“What about Peabody? Will Peabody get old and die?”

(Seriously? We have to talk about PEABODY dying?)

“Eventually, everyone does, Bean. Everyone who lives dies. But you and Peabody will have one another for such a long time, sweetie. There’s no need to worry about this any time soon.”

(There. Now for the love of MIKE, can we stop talking about this, PLE-E-EASE?)

“When you die, we can just take you to the hospital and have them make you better.”

Sigh. No. When we’re sick, we go to the doctor or the hospital to get better. But when we’re dead, that’s the end. That’s all. We can’t get better anymore. But Bean?”

“What, Mama?”

(I take a deep breath. I don’t really have anything ready on the whole Christianity/God/Eternal Life thing for a FOUR YEAR OLD, but I instantly assess and know I’ve got to get it in here, in this first Big Discussion, to lay the groundwork. Build the foundation. Plant that seed.)

“Remember what Daddy and I’ve told you about Jesus and His sacrifice for God’s forgiveness of the bad things we do and how God is our Father in Heaven?” (Which, sure, I know is all very straightforward and simple, yeah, right, ha ha, for a four-year-old to grasp, and OH YES, here comes the really mind-blowing part!)

“Well, when we love God and we let Jesus take over our lives for us, then we really DON’T die. We leave here, and we leave our families for awhile, but we go to Heaven to be with God. And Heaven’s a wonderful place where nothing bad ever happens and everyone is always happy and never hurts or cries.”

(It comes out very awkward and halting and like I doubt it all, even though I don’t doubt it one little bit. I’m just unsure of how to adequately convey something so abstract to my very smart, very pragmatic, very thoughtful and questioning little girl. I know I’m not mentally or emotionally prepared to answer the next round of her questions. I have no idea where she’ll even want to go with this. It’s just all too complicated for her mind to comprehend, yet too important for her HEART not to hear. I’ve been blindsided. All I can do is hope I don’t say something that makes her more fearful.)

And honestly?

She glazes over a little bit.

(YES! I bored her! SALVATION!)

She tells me one more time she wants me to stay her young Mama forever and OH YES! Not go to Bunco tonight. (Manipulate much?)

Then I watch her face as she realizes, in an instant, that if I go ahead and go to Bunco tonight, Daddy’ll let her watch Spongebob, or perhaps break out his boxed set of Looney Toons DVDs, and they’ll eat popcorn together in our bed, and she changes her mind.

“Wait Mama! Actually, you CAN go to Bunco tonight, afterall. I’ll be okay.”

Off she trots to find her flip-flops and head outside to ride her bike.

And I reach for a box of tissues and force myself to begin the work of figuring out how to make my own heart more ready for next time.

17 Responses to Heaven Can Wait. (Spongebob Saves the Day.)
  1. Carrie
    June 15, 2009 | 9:35 pm

    Oh, my goodness. Not looking forward to these kind of conversations!!! I can’t imagine ever feeling ‘wise’ enough to handle them!!!

  2. Kelly
    June 15, 2009 | 10:39 pm


    I’ve had a few conversations along these lines with my oldest — but she is so carefree and nonchalant (on the surface anyway), she usually ends up dry-eyed and thoughtful. “Oh. So we die. But it won’t happen for a long time? Cool. Can I have a Popsicle?”

  3. Susan (5 Minutes for Mom)
    June 16, 2009 | 12:55 am

    I can completely relate to this conversation. My little Julia who is now four brought this up several times while she was still three!

    I honestly have a hard time holding back tears when she starts crying saying she doesn’t want me to die. It is heartbreaking.

    I’ve told her about heaven and it does reassure her somewhat, but she is still very upset about us likely going there at different times.

  4. Tarasview
    June 16, 2009 | 1:14 am

    I’ve actually had this conversation with both of my boys. Aiden is 7 and has horrendous asthma and a couple years ago he started asking if he was going to die when he was right in the middle of an attack. His eyes looked absolutely terrified. I just held him and rocked him and told him that Jesus, Daddy and I were all taking care of him and he was NOT going to die today.

    Then we had a family in our church lose a child- their 1 year old baby died. They had children the EXACT same ages and my 3 as well and they played together all the time. So when the baby died their children started talking about it with my children. There were lots of tears but we just assured them that baby was in heaven with Jesus and if Jesus lives in our heart than we would all get to play together in heaven one day. OH those were tough conversations to have. Heartbreaking.

    THEN my younger son Owen (now 5) asked if he could take his blankie with him when he died. And then Aiden pipes in and asks if he can take his lego. Daddy foolishly says “Oh, we won’t need those things in heaven” at which point my sons both burst out in heaving sobs. It was at this point I said “oh but you will a heavenly blankie and very cool heavenly lego to play with” (my theology may not be entirely accurate here but the crying was destroying me!).

    Anyway, we have had many- never easy- conversations about death. I doubt it will ever get any easier!

  5. melissa
    June 16, 2009 | 2:12 am

    how strange our mind works does it? the first difficult questions asked are aabout death….were we like that outselves or is it now that death is more thought of? i dont think i ever asked such a thing will have to ask mom

  6. Nina
    June 16, 2009 | 4:48 am

    I’ve had these conversations with my 3 year old. I didn’t expect it all to come so early! Right now she says she wants to be a baby again (like little brother) and when I explain that she can’t be a baby again she thinks it is unfair and wants to know why… I still haven’t figured out the best way to respond…

  7. Leigh
    June 16, 2009 | 5:55 am

    Oh yes, we have been there with those questions. Emily went through a period where she would start crying, telling me that she didn’t want me to do. It’s so hard answering and comforting her and yet not lie to her. Thankfully we haven’t had those kind of questions for a while. The only time death gets mentioned is when Emily asks if when our cat dies, can we get a dog!!

  8. Kristen
    June 16, 2009 | 6:16 am

    My Kate has been asking a lot of these questions. They probably started when she was 7. Questions like, my heart feels like it’s slowing down, and I’m afraid it’s going to stop in my sleep. (I’m then reminded of an 8 year old boy from our town that died in his sleep of an unknown heart condition…this is like making a mommy’s nightmares come true). So I begin explaining how your heart works, and that when you’re resting, it slows down, etc., and that when you’re active it has to work harder to get the oxygen to your muscles and such. She really enjoys those physiology talks. 🙂 Seriously. I think understanding how the body works helps calm her down.

    And then the heaven talk starts, and how we’ll see our dog, and our grampa and stuff like that. Which always brings a smile.

  9. Elaine
    June 16, 2009 | 1:07 pm

    Brava, sweetie…for your post and your beautiful self. At times like that, I just ask God for words (or to fix the crazy words I’ve just uttered, somehow).

    Samuel is talking a lot of theology lately as well. I found a big part of my being a mama is trusting Him w/ them, and inviting Him into our conversations … and helping them converse on their own. (Now that one’s hard b/c I can’t always butt my big head in and know what’s going on!)

  10. Amy
    June 16, 2009 | 1:46 pm

    My oldest son, Liam, was not quite 2 1/2 when we lost his brother, Nathaniel, just a few hours after he was born (Nathaniel had Trisomy 18). I became pregnant three months later. That summer while we were talking about the upcoming birth and how this baby would come home and live with us, my now three year old Liam looked at me and said, “No mummy, babies go to heaven.”

    It broke my heart to see him wrestle with the grief in his own little heart and try to understand and make sense of everything.

  11. Jemma
    June 16, 2009 | 2:01 pm

    This is so interesting as Papaya has been asking these kind of questions of late too. Like Bean her’s followed on from a conversation about aging. Being a Humanist I sadly have no heaven to offer her and just have to speak the truth as I know it; of life being about living, and the hope that death won’t come for any of us for a long time yet.

    I do sometimes wish I did have a heaven to offer her though.

  12. Katie
    June 16, 2009 | 2:43 pm

    Oh, so glad my little one can only say 30 or so words right now… I don’t know that I could handle her sweet little face asking me those questions.
    You did a great job, by the way.

  13. Cheryl
    June 17, 2009 | 9:10 am

    Oh how beautiful. You handled it beautifully. I’m so excited to see such an exciting time in Bean’s life, and yours, as you introduce her to the plan of salvation. Thrills me and reminds me of my own tall boy and my little blonde. Feels like an electric shock to your heart though doesn’t it when it comes with no warning. The peace that comes afterward though is the kind that passes all understanding. Happy that you were the one to get to share it with her.

  14. Courtney
    June 17, 2009 | 10:44 am

    I love and hate when kids don’t allow us to take the easy way out sometimes. This is a great conversation that allowed you to talk to her about many things. On the other hand i think i would have had a heart attack.

    The other day my 4 year old told me that he saw the doctor on TV take the baby out of that woman’s butt. When i told him the baby didn’t come out of her butt he preceded to ask where it did come from then. I guess no more watching Discovery Health or TLC when the kids are up lol.

  15. Megan
    June 17, 2009 | 2:44 pm

    Oh wow. Yes. For some reason, we’ve had to talk about all of this, too. I think you handled it BEAUTIFULLY.

    Trying to explain The Cross and Resurrection to a four year old is really no picnic. After a few mumbly, bumbly conversations, I told Dacey, “Just ask your Sunday School teachers. They can explain it better.” Muhahahaha!

    Really though, friend, you did great.

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