I had to explain the notion of death to Margie this week after we lost one of the critters we had brought home from Phoenix.
A teenager with special needs, we've long accepted that Margie processes the world in an entirely different fashion than our other two children. Mostly non-verbal, part of the challenge lies in her inability to communicate what she's thinking to me.
Abstracts are the other part of the challenge. A book, a block, a spoon -- you can hold them in your hand, stack them on the table. Tangible things.
For Margie, colors took forever. When you think about it, what is red exactly? She's no fan of numbers either.
My husband and I texted during the day, planning our strategy for telling the children.
"Tell her about heaven," my husband suggested.
So I started there. Heaven is beautiful. There are angels. They sing. Everybody is happy. Your grandparents are there.
Kitty is there, too. With Jesus.
I quickly realized in Margie's economy, Heaven might as well be Murfreesboro -- or Canada. If Jesus is there, and Kitty is not coming back -- why would anyone want to go there in the first place?
In video games, you're never really dead. If you don't find a power-up before you use up all your lives -- well sure, it's game over -- but you pick up pretty well where you left off, and your energy is renewed.
Margie dug a worm out of the yard this summer. We named him William. William died from over-exertion, from the cool earth to loving hands to transport in a plastic bowl -- it was all too much. So we got another worm. William II. We got to William VI, I think, before worms got boring.
As she and I talked, it seemed 'dead' just meant, 'not here.'
"Awe," she said when I told her Kitty was gone. Then she clicked her tongue to call her, "Kitty, kitty ... "
I had to re-approach -- be more stark, literal: She's not here. We won't see her ever again. She's not breathing. Her heart isn't beating -- here, like yours, feel?
The words were hard on my tongue. In our household, the Blue Russian had devoted herself to me six years. The breed never meows, but she'd make a piteous squeak at dinner time. Each night she alternated between sleeping on top of me, or curling herself about my head on the pillow.
I began to cry. Margie doesn't like it when I do. She grabbed a tissue, pounded it against my face and shook her finger from side to side. "Don't cry."
At church, she stopped all her favorite people and said, "Kitty. Die." They hugged her and offered sympathy.
She brightened when a (helpful) friend suggested she could get a new Kitty. (A Kitty II isn't in the future for awhile, not as long as I have a landlord.)
I felt inadequate this week. But I often have to remind myself that Margie's relationship with God will never be the same as my own. His hand is on her, and He loves her in a way I cannot experience or see. This is where I have to let go of the steering wheel. God will help Margie process the information, even the notion of death, in a way that makes sense to her.
Meanwhile, we love -- and we pray.
Lots of people believe that our household pets go to heaven. I'm not sure I'm one of them. Not a stance, so much as a topic I've never lingered upon for long. All I really know is the nature of God. These little souls share our lives and lavish love of the purest sort. They are not without purpose while here on the earth. Even they are under His watchful eye. Godspeed, little friend.
-- Tracy Simmons is a features writer for the Times-Gazette. She may be reached at (931) 684-1200, ext. 217, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.