After my mom died, my sons struggled to comprehend the finality of death. They were not quite 4 when she passed. Because my husband and I have rather complicated relationships with theology and religion – he veers toward atheism, while I’m the “I believe there’s something bigger than us but don’t know what” brand of agnostic – we didn’t have the comfort of “She’s in heaven with God” answer. I desperately wished that I could spoonfeed them that deliciously easy answer. It would’ve been a comfort to me to believe it in the face of such a gaping void left by her absence.
My husband and I struggled to explain death and what happens after it. My husband’s atheism hit hard in an early attempt – he told them after death is nothing. She’s just gone. Sponge children that they are, they parroted this repeatedly in those first weeks. And each time I heard those tiny voices proclaim “She’s dead. She’s nothing now,” I was gutted fresh. He back-pedaled. He tried to soften with the comforting truth of uncertainty. I did too: She’s with us always in our memories, forever in our hearts.
As they – indeed, we all – continued to process our feelings about her death, we would have conversations and questions. I’d cry. My husband would tell the boys not to talk about grandma because it made mommy sad. I confused them all with contradictions. Don’t stop talking. Yes it makes me sad. But I need her to stay a presence in my life, sadness and all. I still do now, as I wipe away snot and tears even this moment.
Weeks or months into the new normal of my mom being gone, my older twin again asked where she was, what happened to her after death. And I turned the question back to him: I don’t know for sure. Where do you think she is?
“I think that grandma is a cloud.”
And I’m comforted by that thought. That she’s light and ethereal and yet still a significant presence for us; even if we can’t touch her. She’s a cloud now.
Yesterday, the world gained another cloud, removed from the tangible reality of her family’s life much too soon. But she will remain ever present in her legacy of compassion, activism, and love. The world will not forget you, Laura. We will always know you’re here.