He is absolutely enamored with the idea of Heaven and living in the presence of God, and has been for some time now. To him, Earth feels like a cheap imitation of Heaven. He's so anxious to get on to the good part.
Funny how a 4-year-old can have it so right sometimes.
Our conversations usually take place in the van. (Seems like he does his best thinking in there for some reason.) And they typically go something like this:
O: But Mom, (it usually begins with "but" which signals to me that he's been mulling something silently for a while) when will I get to go to Heaven?
Me: Hm... We don't know when you'll go to Heaven, baby. Remember how we talked about that everyone is born and everyone dies? We have an idea of when people will be born, but only God knows exactly when and how. It's the same thing with dying. Usually people die when they're old, but sometimes they die when they're young.
O: Like Evie Grace? She died when she was a baby.
Me: Yes, sweetie. Like Evie Grace. She got to go to Heaven early! Think how wonderful it must be for her up there with Jesus and all the other people that are in Heaven that love her! It must be so beautiful for her!
O: But I want to go to Heaven now too!
Me: Oh, Oliver, not yet! Right now, you get to be alive! God is giving you a very special gift today. Today you get to be alive and you get to give Him glory here and be with Mommy and Daddy and Hazel. We can be so excited for our turn to go to Heaven, but we can also be thankful that we are alive on Earth. Heaven something wonderful to look forward to!
O: And I can meet Evie Grace?
Me: Yes, you can meet Evie Grace. What do you think she will look like, baby?
And the conversation goes on... We imagine our sweet girl. We talk about how she's Oliver's little sister and Hazel's big sister. We wonder together if she looks like Hazel and what it will be like to hold her and hug her. We talk about how old she would be if she were still alive and imagine happily what life would be like with two sisters.
These conversations aren't usually sad ones (at least not for Oliver, and I never let on). Other times though, I have had to explain to him that even though death is a happy moment for the person who gets to be with Jesus, it is sad for the people that will miss them. We talk about how much I would miss Oliver if he was in Heaven but how excited I would be that he was there. Just like Evie.
One recent and similar talk we had made me realize that perhaps it was time to explain things to him just a little further. This is how it went:
O: But how will I get to Heaven? (again with the "but" at the beginning of a thought. He must just roll this stuff around in his head, trying to grasp it all.)
Me: Oliver, you know how we have talked about that we all have spirits?
O: Uh huh.
Me: Well when we die, if we love Jesus, our spirit goes to Heaven to live with Him. But do you know that our bodies stay here on Earth? Like when a person dies, if they love Jesus, their spirit goes to Heaven and their body stays here and we bury it. That's what cemeteries are for. It's where we bury the people that we love. Do you know that Evie Grace's little body is buried in a cemetery not far from here? It has a stone that says her name and everything!
O: (he just giggles at the thought of her sudden tangibility)
Me: Baby, would you like me to take you to see where Evie Grace is buried? You can see her name written and if you want, we can go pick out some flowers for you to give to her.
O: (Another giggle) Yes! When can we?
It's funny to me that in all the times he's come along with us to visit her grave, he's never been interested or made the connection about what we were doing. He's known her name and a little bit about her, but Oliver was only 18 months old when she was stillborn. He's learned about her in age-appropriate doses for the past two and a half years, and now this older brother was ready to pay his respects.
This was a big moment. One that I though his Daddy should be in on. So, rather than turning the van immediately in the direction of the cemetery that day, we planned that we'd go on the weekend.
Oliver took his time and carefully picked out the perfect flowers for his baby sister. (And boy did he take his time... sheesh!) He played with them all the way to the cemetery and chatted happily about things in his own 4-year-old - sometimes shocking or irreverent - way. (As we pulled into the cemetery his big first question was, "Where will I get to be buried?!!")
When we parked, he quickly unclipped, jumped out of the van, slung the flowers over his shoulder and asked us to point him in the right direction.
This was not a sad visit for him. He was so excited about the tangibility of a burial place. (Perhaps too excited. We had to quickly teach him a bit of etiquette about jumping on all the grave makers. My apologies.)
We found Evie's special place and took the existing flowers out of her vase so that Oliver could replace them with the ones that he picked out.
Because he's so interested in letters and what they spell right now, he wanted to read every letter on her headstone and find out what it said. He was so giggly when he read that her last name was the same as his.
As we sat there we talked about death and life and Evie Grace and Heaven. I asked him where Evie's spirit was and he answered, "Heaven!" And I asked him where her body was and he pointed in the direction of her grave. Then I asked him where his spirit and his body are and it took him a moment before she smiled and slapped his hands on his chest.
I told him that it was a happy thing to be in Heaven but it's also a very happy thing when your body and spirit are together. That means you're alive! "Oliver, you're ALIVE!!!"
The thought of it overtook him and he threw his arms in the air and took off running and skipping all around the graves.
He was rejoicing in the life God had given him today.
For a moment I worried that his flitting about would be disrespectful, like he was rubbing it in to all the children who were not alive that he still had life. But I know that was not his intent at all. He was just so glad. (Again, leave it to a 4-year-old to turn a place of mourning into a place of dancing!) To be honest, it made us all feel like dancing!
We spent some time enjoying the lovely fall afternoon and being near to our baby girl, if only her body. We want the kids to feel comfortable here. We want them to ask questions as they arise and understand death and what it means - as best as any of us can. We want them to know that death is a thief and life is a gift. And that Heaven awaits them because of Jesus' own death and resurrection.
We want them to know about their sister. We don't want to bring them sadness, but I really don't think that's the case. They're comfortable here.
I'm so grateful that we have been able to naturally and gradually talk with Oliver about some of the biggest (and in many ways, hardest) truths that life has to offer. While Ryan and I certainly felt the sting of death that evening as we packed the kids back up in the van, leaving one behind in the cool fall air with nothing but a helpless goodbye kiss, our little Oliver's spirit of joy reminded us of the hope that is Heaven and the gift of life that is ours for His glory.
Just before we left I snapped a picture of the tree that grows very close to Evie's grave. Isn't it lovely in it's bareness as it reaches heavenward with a promise of new life after the cold winter? His reminders of hope are everywhere!
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem,coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."