It has been a long time since I have given this blog any real attention. Our Birdie is three years old now and I am beginning to find my voice again. Because there is no best place to start again, I am starting somewhere, anywhere, here, now. I hope to be better about sharing my writing more often, even when it is imperfect. Thank you for reading along.
I have stopped paddling and our kayak is floating and rocking on the water. Your arm just barely reaches over the side, nevertheless you dip your fingertips into the water, then you pull them out and suck the cold salty water off and smile. We see a horseshoe crab, long since dead and smelling of decay. I pick it up and show you. You touch its shell, you ask, Will it pinch me, Papa? No, honey, it’s dead. It’s not alive anymore? No, it’s gone back to the earth, that’s just it’s shell. We touch the crab and talk about it’s texture and when we have had enough you throw it back and say, go back to nature.
I paddle us on and you lean back into me, now your palms are rubbing and patting my legs, reassuring yourself with the contact of your skin against mine. You ask, What dead mean, Papa? This is not the first time we have talked about death, but today your questions feel different, there is something more under the surface that you want to say. How old were you when Grandpa Bill died? A teenager. Why he have to die papa? He was very very bad sick. How old were you when great grandpa buddy died? A grown up, a few years before you were born. Why he die? He lived a very long life, almost 100 years, it was just time for his body to be done living. What it mean to die, Papa? It means your body no longer works. You can’t talk or feel or think. You go back to the earth, sweet pea. I answer your questions as I best imagine you can understand them. I try to be gentle and honest. I am sure my answers are imperfect but they are enough for you, for now.
The question is forming in your mind, I see it behind your eyes but I can’t bear for you to ask it yet. What will I say to you? You don’t ask it tonight, but I can feel it coming.
Weeks later we are in the comfy chair in your bedroom, you are snuggled on my lap. It is getting late and I am trying to get you to sleep but you are unsettled and restless. It is dark in the room and I can’t see you, but I feel your weight against me. I know that one of your hands is rubbing the well worn paw of your bear-bear, the other hand is fingering the collar of my shirt. When you fall asleep you will lay your palm against the skin of my chest.
Papa…will I die? I am caught off guard by this, I take a breath and I say, yes, sweetheart, some day everything that lives dies. But not tonight. Not tomorrow. Not for a very long time, you have a lot of life to live first. I feel sad about dying someday Papa. Oh buddy, it can feel sad to think about dying. It’s ok to feel sad about it, I feel sad when I think about it too.
Papa? Yes Birdie? Will you die someday? Now my heart is nothing but a lump in my throat and if I open my mouth I think no words will come out at all, just a rushing river of tears. I don’t know how to tell you this. I don’t want to have to tell you this.
What I want to tell you, my sweet one, is that I never ever want to leave you. That I would do just about anything to never have to leave you. But this is not how life works. This is the balance of exactly what makes life so precious and beautiful- that is it not forever, that it is out of our control.
I swallow as hard as I can and I make my voice sound calm and collected and I tell you the truth. Yes, someday I will die too. You don’t answer with words, you just reach up and hug me, you bury your face in my chest and maybe you can hear me or maybe you can’t but my tears are rolling down my cheeks now onto the top of your head- which smells like lavender shampoo and that only makes me want to cry harder. I tell you I love you, I tell you again and again that I love you. I want to fill you entirely with love so that whenever the day comes that I have to go, you will never wonder or want or search for my love. You will only have to look within you, there it will be in your blood, in your bones, in each and every beat of your heart.
You are mostly quiet after that and you fall asleep heavy against me while I sing you the same lullaby I have sung every night since you were born. I sit there still holding you, long after you fall asleep. Everything is fleeting and impermanent, but here in the dark you can still be my baby, and I can be your Papa forever, and I will never, ever leave you.