Yesterday it happened: I dropped a penny on the ground, and somehow I found myself in a conversation with my four-year-old about Philomena, who is I guess his “big” sister from my earlier miscarriage. I realized that I need to be more deliberate about involving my child in heaven in our continuing lives on earth.
This isn’t my son’s first encounter with the idea that people will die; my boy has had a rather soft and easy introduction to death—almost as if there’s nothing bothersome about it. Since it’s fruitless to evaluate whether or not that was best, I don’t let myself dwell on it. As it is, he heard about death first when we had a week of annoying fruit flies in the kitchen, and I unthinkingly used the word “kill.” Then, he came home from one of his first weeks at pre-K 3 telling me the story of St. Andrew who went to meet Jesus. To put the nail in the coffin, one day he overheard me and my mother confirming that my parents will not permanently move out of state until after the death of my grandmother, because they want to have some time with her during their retirement.
“Why will Grammy die?” called my little guy from the next room. Oops.
That certainly did hit closer to home than his prior impressions of death; he loves his great-grandmother. Both of his living great-grandmothers. But even so, death has always been positioned in a kind way for him. I don’t know that he grasped the real sadness surrounding it until he learned that he has another sister. He was so curious about her, and very, very sad and confused that he doesn’t know her. I think he even felt upset with me, that I didn’t tell him about Philomena earlier. I’ll have to give him the chance to talk to me about that.
As usual, he’s right—she is a part of our family. I should have carved out a role for her with all of the siblings long before now. A role more visible than thinking about her when I find a penny or see a picture of a cherub. Starting today, we have added Philomena to our bedtime prayers—in a different capacity of course, because she doesn’t need God’s help on earth. Here’s what I know we can do:
1. Make it personal: what do I know about my oldest-but-littlest baby? Not much, but I can feel that she is a joyous soul. When we have grumpy mornings or someone in the house is feeling negative, we’ll ask her to bring joy to our home.
2. Keep pro-life activity going, to show my children that life is always precious. I don’t want this to be an issue that comes up when they’re in middle school in a political discussion, they way it did for me. I want it to be obvious, something that they experience and therefore KNOW long before they are challenged by politics. I’m not huge on rallies because I feel too much anger in the air (even if it is peaceful). Instead we’ll be making small donations of baby items from time to time in her memory, letting the kids know what’s happening and that these items are being given to a mom who is having trouble finding a way to keep her baby.
3. Praying for the dead is the seventh Spiritual Work of Mercy. Our child went straight to heaven – with no opportunity to commit a sin, ever! But whom is she waiting for in heaven? But obviously many souls who need to cleanse in purgatory on their way to heaven are simply forgotten. My kids can help their sister have even more friends and family in heaven by praying that they get there soon.
Do you have more ideas on how to involve a lost child in family life?