When I first discussed heaven with my adopted daughter, it was to help her handle the enormous losses she had suffered, first and foremost being the death of her mother. I didn’t think about the theological implications — I was providing answers that would help her sleep at night. At first she wanted very simple things for her mother — a pretty house with a vegetable garden, enough food, clothing. I answered her questions like a champ, describing the floor plan of her mother’s cottage and the amenities there — running water, electricity, a refrigerator. She was comforted to think of her mother living in what she saw as luxury.
Near the end of that phase, she started dreaming bigger — her mother still lived in a cottage and gardened, but she wore fancy dresses to do her gardening. We would discuss these dresses at length. I remember describing a blue velvet dress in great detail, with my daughter volunteering ideas when I faltered.
Inevitably, though, the questions got harder. Out of nowhere, she wanted to know if the baby her mom was carrying was there, too. Once I got over the shock of that question (I was not aware her mother had been pregnant), I answered that of course the baby lived with her in heaven. After that, I steeled myself for anything.
I found myself getting reckless with my promises. “Yes, of course your mom can marry Abraham Lincoln in heaven. I’m sure they have already met, and of course they would get married.” I learned not to ask too many clarifying questions, after the response I got when I asked what she thought her mother and Lincoln have in common: “Well, they are both dead.” (Not spoken, but delivered nonetheless, was a massive “DUH.”) I have also promised her that our late Chow Chow has introduced himself and is protecting her mother. Not because she needs protection, but because he loves to guard people.
However I delivered that particular story must have been convincing, because she hasn’t asked for more details in a long time. She seems comfortable knowing that her mom is in heaven, gardening with her new husband Abraham Lincoln, surrounded by a crowd of dogs.
My people are Irish. We are supposed to be storytellers and clever people. I try to remind myself of that. It’s in my blood to tell colorful stories to children. That’s why I don’t feel guilty about this at all — in fact, even on days when I fail at everything, it’s the one thing I am sure I am doing right.
My son, who was younger when his mother died, just past babyhood, has different needs. He has no problem believing his mother is safely ensconced in fluffy cloud heaven. What he wants to know, of course, is if she still loves him and matters to him. I tell him of course, and that she regularly visits me in my dreams to ask how he is doing. I tell him she always tells me to do better and try harder. That much is true, although those are conversations I imagine when I’m feeling discouraged rather than dreams. He likes that his mom is keeping tabs on me.
His need for attention — and for my promises of undying love — has never waned. He wants as much as I can give, more than I can give, even. I talk a good game — he wants smothering, so I give him smothering. I have fun with it, although I don’t let that on to him: I tell him I can hardly wait for him to get married so I can move in with him and his new wife and we can go on vacations together and spend every day together and I can teach his wife how to cook. He smiles happily at the thought. Hopefully he’ll want to live in LA because I’ve also promised my daughter I’ll move there and live with her when she becomes a pop star.
I find myself channeling overbearing fictional mothers with better lines. I sing “You’ll Never Get Away from Me” from Gypsy to him as he listens approvingly and I smirk a little to myself. I might be the only person who rewatched North & South (the BBC drama, not the U.S. miniseries) simply to steal lines from the overbearing mother (“A mother’s love holds fast and forever. A girl’s love is like a puff of smoke – it changes with every wind.”) I probably shouldn’t say the second line but Sinead Cusack is just brilliant and I can’t resist.
This phase appears to be nearing an end, but before it does my goal is to deliver a line from Mommie Dearest. Not surprisingly, I’m having a hard time finding one that could be described as remotely supportive. I’m confident I can do it, though. After all, this ain’t my first time at the rodeo.