There is probably no other place besides a blogging conference that you can have a deep theology discussion wearing a red McDonald’s Snuggie, a McDonald’s hat and drinking wine from a plastic cup.
And that is EXACTLY what I did with some lovely, beautiful women in Houston at Mom 2.0.
We each have WILDLY different beliefs.
(I was totally tempted to title this post “A Mormon, Catholic, Protestant, Atheist, and a Jew walked into a bar…”)
Lindsay, Catherine, Julie, Devra and I are like “The Blogging Super Best Friends” of religious backgrounds.
We all respect and like each other.
We are all going to address the same topic.
How do we, with our different experiences, talk about death with our children? (I also *finally* answer why I am not a practicing Mormon any longer.)
I have linked to their blog posts at the bottom of the page and deeply hope you go and read them. They are amazing.
You might have read the title of this post and had a negative reaction. And that is ok. It’s just…discussion about death at my house might not be quite the same as they are at yours.
For us, death is a horrible, hard, morbid and terrible reality that manifested in the cruelest of all ways. As many of you know, my beautiful baby boy, Matthew, passed away on September 23, 2003 of SIDS at the age of (almost) 4 months. SIDS stands for SUDDEN Infant Death Syndrome. We had no warning. No time to prepare for the onslaught of hell that was about to devastate and affect our lives for years and years to come.
My other children were 7 and 4 at the time. I was not there when they were told that their baby brother had died, and while I wish so much they could have had their mother with them during that experience, I am thankful that that is not yet another devastating moment that I have to relive in my head.
They were not prepared.
NONE of us were.
We had mentioned what happens when someone dies here and there before that day in September, but never to any great detail. We did talk to the kids, but nothing formal, discussed beforehand. And honestly, we thought they were doing ok and “got it” for the most part. We absolutely talked to them about it afterwards, but they weren’t huge on the questions for a long time. I assumed they were just being reliant kids and just figured it out to their satisfaction.
I should have known never to assume anything when it comes to children. It came to bite me in the ass when I was driving my kids around on errands after Matthew passed away and Christopher suddenly, jarringly, piped up from the back seat.
“Mom? Is Matthew going to be a zombie now?”
“NO. He is NOT going to be a zombie. EVER.”
(Seriously, I LOVE HOW THESE QUESTIONS ALWAYS HAPPEN WHEN I AM TRYING TO OPERATE A VEHICLE)
“Well…if he isn’t going to be a zombie, can we dig him up to play with him?”
(Did I mention that I WAS TRYING TO DRIVE IN RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC?)
“…..No. You….Cannot….dig up your brother and play with him. I know you really want to but you can’t ever do that again. It’s hard and we all miss him and I’m so sorry because I know he loved it when you played together.”
“So…we can’t dig him up?”
Things got VERY quiet because I was REELING and Christopher was sad. Then I heard James whisper, “Don’t worry, Christopher. I know where Mom and Dad keep the shovels. They’re in the shed.”
(It’s ok. You can recoil or laugh. Or both. You have no idea how morbid the topics gets when someone close to you dies and how if you DIDN’T laugh? It would kill you. It almost killed me anyway and I laugh all the time.)
It was obvious that we needed to further address the issue of death and what happens when we die with our kids.
We picked a great analogy that was popular in our religion to explain physical death and souls to children. You take a glove and illustrate that as it is…it’s just a glove. Then you put it on your hand and move it around. Without your hand the glove is useless but when it covers the hand the two work beautifully together, just as it should. Then take the glove off. Once the glove is discarded and separated from the hand it is useless once again. But while the glove is useless, the hand can still move and exist without it.
It’s actually pretty snazzy and accurate to many faiths.
We made it clear that Matthew still existed as a spirit. That he was with Heavenly Father. That he still loved us and we still loved him. That he is ok.
A dear, long-time friend of mine looked physically pained during a conversation about this post when he told me that he believes when we die, we are just dead.
He didn’t want to hurt me. He cares about me and knows that losing a child is enough pain for someone without telling a grieving mother that her son is nowhere but in the dirt, in their opinion. But, no…he doesn’t believe we exist past this life.
Much as I adore him to bits and am truly respectful and supportive of him being comfortable with what he believes, I have to disagree for myself.
I believe in souls. I believe there is something in us that existed before we had a physical body and I believe that we will continue to exist once that body dies. No one can give me an acceptable scientific explanation for where that animation and beauty that is humanity comes from or where it goes. To me it is not explainable other than there has got to be something more than just this life.
The explanation at the time worked really well and the whole subject wasn’t as tough THEN as it would become.
Because THEN I was still a practicing, active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
(Donny Osmond? Mitt Romney?? Ricky “The Ricker” Schroeder???)
Right now, while my name remains on church records, I do not attend nor adhere to any of the principles or the LDS faith.
I NEED TO BE CLEAR I AM NO REPRESENTATIVE OF MORMONISM.
I get asked why I left the Mormon Church more than just about ANYTHING about me (Besides, “Um..excuse me, but HOW DID SOMEONE LIKE YOU BECOME A 3-TERM PTA PRESIDENT!?”).
So, I thought I would FINALLY give you some insight today and cross my fingers that I can somehow condense issues and things that could well take up 6 volumes into one tiny blog post.
I am rather protective of Mormonism. While I am not active it IS my background. If I ever returned to religious practice, it would be that one. It is highly controversial and evokes the most face-melting hatred in some factions. I’m not interested at all in bashing it or hearing others bash or hate on it. There are like, elventyhundred other places to do that online, but this is not one of them. I’ve heard all the arguments and don’t mind discussing things AT ALL AS LONG AS YOU ARE RESPECTFUL IN YOUR DISSENT. (The delete key is my friend, yo.)
I’ve never had strong faith.
As far back as I can remember, church just wasn’t a great place to be. I WANTED it to be. Oh, MY the times that I would sit in church and wonder what was wrong with me that I didn’t seem to take as much…awesome comfort in it as everyone else. And people TRULY do. My brother, Rhett, is one of the most faithful people I know and the church gives him a true, deep happiness that I envy.
I find that my issues (for the most part) were much more focused on God than The Mormon Church. (Though, do we have HUGE disagreements on many things. A post and discussion for another day.)
My faith in God was never awesome. I am not one to consider praying for help. I HAVE prayed, but it is not natural to me and usually it is on behalf of others. My childhood was hard and kind of lonely. I had a lot of things really screw with my head as a teenager and yet another thing ripped my faith into more pieces in my young adulthood than I could manage to put back together.
Matthew dying was the last nail in the coffin, I’m afraid.
God and I have been in a fight ever since.
And I don’t even know how I look at God or what his role and makeup is anymore.
Or Christ for that matter.
When Matthew died, every single thing I thought I knew about EVERYTHING was dumped on the floor in a mess and it may take more years than I have left to figure out what to do with them. I believe in some form of higher power, I’m just not sure WHAT, exactly.
I also know that when my little bug passed away I was initially VERY comforted. And I felt SPIRITUALLY comforted, even though that feeling would not only desert me but I would be left with my life in such tatters I would be looking UP to see hell. For a time, though it helped me.
And I am grateful for that.
Mormons deal with death as a whole in a very positive manner. There is crying and grief at funerals and about death, but not usually a general feeling of dispair. No veils or all black worn at funerals. There is huge, great, shiny hope in the after life and what it will mean to people. That we will all see each other again and the separation is temporary.The family is the primary focus. Temple marriages survive past the bonds of death, Families are eternal. If you go through the temple and are sealed, you are bound together for eternity as are your children. You will see your loved ones again if you live worthily and to prescribed standards. (And they are some pretty high standards. But again…that is a topic for another day.)
When children under 8 die, there is no test. They are exalted. Perfect, pure, innocents that automatically go straight back into the arms of Heavenly Father. The rest of the family will join them later and the temple-endowed parents of lost little ones will have a chance to raise them again after the resurrection of Christ.
Sounds lovely, no?
Here is the problem.
For many different reasons that are really none of your business, Jonathan and I are not sealed in the Temple.
Meaning…I am not sealed to Matthew.
There was little that was going to change that.
And when all was said and done, it was probably the primary reason I had to walk away from the Mormon faith.
I couldn’t take it.
Could not, could not, COULD NOT TAKE IT.
Could not take the thought of sitting there week after week hearing “families are forever” and knowing there was nothing I could do to make that happen. (Again. Long story.) and that my son was just…out there. HE was fine but what would happen to our family?
You have no idea the pressure, stress, worry, sorrow and fear.
Yes, I could have gone on my own but I honestly think it would have ripped my marriage apart even more than it ended up being in the end.
I couldn’t live like that.
And for that and soooooooooooooooooooo many more reasons, I became inactive.
If I had a lifetime of strong testimony and faith and comfort in it? I would probably still be there. But the truth of the matter is that being a practicing Mormon stresses me the hell out. I DO struggle with some aspects of not practicing, but over all I feel a lot more comfortable in my own skin. (Hey, SOMEONE has to go to the Middle Kingdom. And I am pretty ok with that as things go.)
I STRONGLY believe that this is what I need to do right now. I have had several attempts to return to church. It hasn’t worked out for more reasons than even I know.
I make sure my children go, though.
It was a decision made by all of us. They wanted to go and I am a believer that if you truly want to give your children a choice regarding religion and if they practice it, they need exposure to religion when they are children. I want to give faith a fighting chance with them. I don’t want my issues to be their issues. (And I realize MANY disagree with this, and that is ok, too.) Like, I said- I know plenty of truly happy LDS people that aren’t asshats. If my kids can pull that off and love it and be happy? I am for that. IF they are more like me and it’s not a great fit? Fine. But I want them to know that judging others for their beliefs and how they live is not ok. That seeing someone with a cup of coffee, cigarette, beer or wearing a tank top does not mean they are evil or unhappy with how they choose to live.
That is important to me.
They have many great examples of strong, faithful Mormons around them. Like their grandparents that take them to services every other week. They also have examples of people who are very different and not practicing that fiercely love them and have that love returned. Like their mother and father who make sure that they are able to go.
My children ask me all the time if I am going back to church. I tell them I love them. That I am ok. They are ok. That we will all be ok and that I truly believe that. I am supportive of them being religious. I tell them I support whatever they want to do with church. That I will make sure they go every week, that I send them to youth camps, that I will pay for their 2-year missionary service at 19 if they are worthy and want to serve. If they want to pray (and they usually do) we pray. I never stop anything they want to do religiously.
I have told my children that no matter what they discover about themselves and grow into: religious, non-religious, conservative, liberal, straight, gay, purple or alien that more than anything in this world, I want them to just be happy and comfortable with who they are deep at their core. Whatever path serves that is the one I hope they follow.
As for me returning to church I will not be pushed faster and more than I want to/can walk in the area of faith.
I will go to church for no one but myself. Because I have done that and done that and it only serves to make me feel inadequate and miserable a huge portion of the time.
And right now?
I can’t. It’s not where I am at. I don’t know if it ever will be again.
And because Mormonism isn’t simply a religion but a culture and is such a huge part of my daily life, part of that makes me sad.
But not enough to change it.
I feel good.
Just as I am.
The only thing that I really know for certain is that I don’t know a damn thing for certain.
But what I utterly believe with my heart and soul is that my son keeps existing. If I did not, I would break into a thousand more pieces than I could ever put back together again.
I also believe that he is ok.
Beyond that, all I can hope is that after trying to wade through hell to get through a life on earth without him in it?
I will be ok, too.
Please take some time to explore the sister posts on this subject by my fellow “Super Best Friends”, and truly beautiful women, at their blogs below:
SUBURBAN TURMOIL (This was Lindsay’s brain child)