19 November 2010

So, not only has Oliver been asking a lot of questions about pregnancy and childbirth lately, but he's also initiated several conversations recently about death and Heaven.

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."
Revelation 21:1-4


Christine said...

This is really lovely. I know this isn't easy stuff to talk about, with Oliver or with all of us, and you've communicated it beautifully on both accounts. And go Oliver! He is responding so well and asking all the right questions.

Just so you know: Our time in England made us realize how silly Americans are about being so quiet and tip-toey around graves. There (and elsewhere, I'm sure) you are constantly walking in graves in churches, in graveyards, etc. It's just expected. You live with the dead. They are all around us, surrounding us. (That is, perhaps, a VERY Orthodox idea, but we are always so aware of the saints who have gone before us!) So Oliver, in my opinion, reacted perfectly well in the cemetery. :)

Love to you all. All of you.

Christine said...

Um, walking *on* graves, not in. Oops! Big oops.

Brei said...

Love this post so much. Beautiful...thank you for sharing.

stephanie joy said...

lovely, poignant post today. i loved it. and i happened to be reading it with MY 4 year old on my lap. she quite enjoyed the pictures and was laughing at oliver. she loved it. this is especially a precious post to read as just yesterday we mourned the passing of my uncle who died of bone cancer. thank you for the reminder that we can still rejoice in the midst of pain... a joyfulness can overtake us as we think of our loved ones in heaven... and rejoice that we can still live for our Saviour here on earth. thanks, dear raechel!! xo

Shandell said...

what a beautiful story. thank you for sharing your little moments, I know they will come to mind when my son is old enough for questions like these.

Katy said...

this is so sweet Raechel,
i love that O was so excited to bring Evie flowers and how wonderful that they have such faith and excitement of being able to see them again one day! oh to have that faith always.
love yall and love that you have such sweet babies.

Jessi said...

Such beautiful words and pictures. And such a beautiful heart and spirit your sweet boy has!
Thanks for sharing with us :)

Amy's Avenue Blog! said...

This is totally going to sound corny, but you really do motivate me to be a better mother. Your posts are always so honest and so amazing. Your words challenge me in my thinking in the most amazing of ways. Thank you for being so transparent! I really appreciate you!

~City Love... now, forever, always~ said...


It's an amazing thing that Oliver seems to understand so well, you have done a wonderful job of using the teachable moments.

I lost my husband almost 3 years ago, when my kids were 3 1/2, 1 1/2, and 2 months. My oldest is the only one who remembers anything. My girls have no idea about death. One thing that's helped me a tiny bit in helping them understand, is that we found a dead bird in the yard. I showed it to them, and seeing the bird, still and cold, helped them understand what I mean when I say that when someone dies, their energy leaves their body and goes to Heaven.


I'm sure that as joyful as this experience was for you, it was also incredibly tough, and I'm sure writing all about it was, too.

Thank you for sharing <3

Groovy said...

This is a beautiful post, Raechel, about the realities of life, death, and an incredibly spiritual child...guard his heart...you are blessed beyond measure.

pinkflipflops said...

what a beautiful post. i can't imagine how hard it must be for you and ryan.

Cheri said...

absolutely beautiful.

Alyssa said...

such a beautiful post and touching photos!

Molly @ Me and Madeline said...

I love this post. Oliver, Hazel and Evie are blessed to have you two as parents! This was just beautiful.

Ummm, you must tell me where you got Hazel's adorable little skirt!

Katie Kermeen Swisher said...

This is lovely...thank you for sharing your life with us in such a beautiful way!

Southern Queen of the Crazies said...

It never ceases to amaze me how kids get what we adults have such a hard time grasping.

Lyndsey said...

This post was beautiful...as is your family!

Rusty, Erika, Carter and Cason Berner said...

Beautiful post. I absolutely loved the pictures of your little guy...if only that "enthusiasm" was in all of us! I am in love with your little one's pink skirt! Could you share where you purchased this or if you made it..how you made it? I"m the mother of 2 little boys, a weimaraner dog and prego with a little girl due in the spring! I am having so much fun preparing my "pink" closet and would love to be able to add a skirt like that to it! I'd love to hear back from you!
Thanks for your wonderful posts...you have a beautiful family!

Raechel said...

Erika: (I'm assuming it's Erika anyway!)
I actually picked up the skirt at babyGap last week. They've been running 40% off everything sales lately and I just loved the skirt. It is actually a pair of crawler pants with a tutu attached. Congrats on your baby girl on the way!

Heather said...


Tina said...

Such an awesome entry! It's such a true testament to God's loving graces and joy. What an amazing witness and teaching moment that was for you!

Kristin said...

This is so amazing and touching. So sweet Oliver is. I loved everything about this post <3

Rachel said...

One of the most beautiful posts I've read in this big bloggy world. It put tears in my eyes.

Thanks for your honesty and for sharing this with us. You put it all so well!

JordieMarie said...

So very lovely. My family lost my grandfather the day before Thanksgiving, and this post helped to keep everything in perspective. Thank you!

keight dukes said...

beautiful post raechel.