The children are still young enough that someone who has died merely disappears from memory. They met my grandfather, at least ten times but I know they have no memory of him. I kept them out of the memorial last year so they didn’t have that marker either. Sometimes when they go to my grandmother’s house I know they look at his empty chair for a moment but nothing ever seems to be said. But now at 3 and almost 5 death has come again and this time it’s not so easy to hide. And much more difficult to explain.

A good friend’s mother died. Paloma, the three year old immediately asks ‘why do you look so sad?’ I don’t think of what to answer but I just answer.

“Lysa’s mommy was very sick and she died.”
“Will she get better?” Paloma asks.
“No,” I say, “She’s gone. She’s disappeared.”
“I don’t want to die, Mommy. I want to stay here.”
“Most of us do, Paloma.”
“Don’t be sad, Mommy. I give you a hug and a kiss, okay?”

Still, Paloma looks a bit shaken at seeing me cry. Every once in awhile she lifts her head from whatever she is doing and says,

"Don’t be sad Mommy, I love you. I give you hug and kiss.” This seems to be her cure. She also seems puzzled when her cure does not immediately work.

How young is too young to explain the concept and reality of death? Has it been made harder by the fact that we are agnostic with Buddhist leanings? Since we haven’t mythologized a heaven or a hell, what is the proper response or at least a decent one to why people go to sleep and never wake up (which is what my mother explained to them later in the day).

Diego seems to be grasping it in terms of the every day carnage he sees in the meadow and at the backdoor---the headless birds and lizards and moles brought as presents by the cats.

“She died like the birds, Mommy? When Mousey eat the birds and the birds are in her belly?” At first his explanation horrifies me. I think of scattered feathers and murderous cats. His face is starring into mine waiting for assurance that he’s correct. I’m stuck for an honest answer. I want to give him Disneyland and Santa Claus. But something in his concern says I’m not allowed to make this one up.

“She had cancer. Cancer eats people sometimes.” He shakes his head and I’m all at once afraid that I’ve just sent him into a panic. Will this come up again at naptime? Will my response keep him up? Diego looks out the backdoor. There are recent feathers on the snow. Paloma comes running up to see what we are doing and Diego explains.

“Tia Lysa’s Mommy is died,” he says to his sister, “She’s in the belly of the Cancer.” We stare at the feathers––gray, black, and stranded in the snow. I’m about to lose it again and Paloma reaches over to her brother and gives him a kiss and a hug and then grabs my leg.

“I give you guys a kiss and a hug, okay? You be better, okay?” She pats my thigh. That’s as much of an explanation and recovery as I can think of.