Chiara, 3, is very focused on death, God and old age these days. Just the other morning, what started as a lovely little talk about God creating the world, quickly morphed into a serious discussion about the afterlife.
She began simply enough: Did God make the trees? Did God make the sky? When I said yes to that last one, she laughed and said, “No, it would be too high for him to reach.” From there she moved onto God’s address: Where does he live? Does he have toys at his house? Does he have a place to cook? Does he have a name? Does he fly? Can he walk? Was making the world a game for God? Does he make the leaves come down? Did he make this placemat? Does he go to sleep?
All of those questions inevitably led to talk of heaven…
Chiara: What does heaven mean?
Me: Heaven is where we will go after we die, hopefully when we’re very old. In heaven we’ll see God.
Chiara: E-ma is very old. E-ma is never going to die. (This is something Chiara brings up with alarming frequency.)
Me: No, E-ma will die one day, and we will be sad.
Chiara: And she will find God?
Me: Or God will find her.
Chiara: Who else is going to die except for E-ma?
Me: We’re all going to die. Every living thing has to die. But hopefully that will not come until we are very old.
Chiara: So everyone except for us is going to die?
Me: Ah, no. We’ll die too some day, hopefully a long time from now. Hopefully not until we get old like E-ma.
Chiara: And we will see God. But our house will still be here, right?
Chiara: (Climbing into my lap) I don’t want to die. It’s not coming yet, right?
Chiara reminds me of her big brother when she gets like this. I always thought Noah focused on death because I happened to be writing a book about children and grief back when he was a preschooler. He was my guinea pig. I was always trying to talk to him about the circle of life and death. But it turns out that some kids are just more curious or worried about this topic. Through the rest of the day, Chiara kept coming back to our conversation, asking if I was old or if she was old, trying to get some sort of guarantee that, as she put it, “it’s not coming yet.” If only we could make such guarantees. I have to admit that I lingered a little longer than usual when I tucked her in that night, wishing I could give her the answer she’s looking for.