Earlier mom had told us that the burial of dad's ashes will be at 1pm on Friday. The boy had looked confused. We have had a fairly formal funeral, where he formally said goodbye to his grandpa in front of family and friends. He had also said goodbye with just the family at the hospice a week earlier.
"What's a burial?" he asked.
"We put away grandpa's ashes." mom replied, trying to be as brief as possible.
"But we already put his ashes in the box I picked out for him, didn't we? You don't like the box?" The boy needed to be clear.
"Yes. But now we need to put that small box in a big box." Mom tried to put it in terms he could understand.
"But I don't get it. Why do we want to do things like putting a smaller box in a bigger box?"
He couldn't let this last point go no matter what the explanations, and his questions repeated a few more rounds like this, louder as he got into each round. Not until I told him we would go get fro-yo later did he return to quietly finishing dinner.
Now he seems to have forgotten all about the big box, small box problem, having a tub of frozen sweets to fill his busy mouth. I squint into the crowd, grateful for the blaring afternoon sun which offered me an excuse for dark glasses, and for splashing dampness all around which allowed me another reason to wipe my face. An evening breeze sets in, as I take another bite and let out a soft sigh.
"Mom are you ok? Why do you look so sad?" The boy turns and sees, suddenly alarmed. He grabs my shoulder, shaking it lightly to get my attention.
My voice is calm. I call him by his name. "Listen, I know the burial seems confusing, but we need to say goodbye to grandpa this one more time. Besides, don't you want to know where he rests?"
"I know where he is, he is in heaven playing with Jesus, I can see him and he told me himself! So whenever I'm sad, I just picture him having fun..."
"That's true. I'm so glad he told you. But for grandma, it's a little different. She has been married to grandpa for over forty years. When two people get married, it is like gluing two pieces of paper together, and the longer they are married, the more glued together they get. So imagine tearing them apart again, ... When grandpa left, it was like tearing him apart from grandma after they've been glued together for forty years, and it hurts her so much..., we call that grief."
The boy listens, forgetting to eat, or talk, for once.
"Remember that time when you cut your chin so badly we had to take you to the hospital?" I asked.
The boy nodded, starting to talk but kept quiet again.
"But I bet you don't remember the last time I had to put a band-aid on you right?"
He confirmed quietly again.
"When you have a small wound, the kind that barely scratches the skin, we can just put a band-aid on you and that's enough. But when you cut your chin on that big piece of play structure, we had to take you to the hospital to have the doctors glue your wound back together. You had to get some shots, some medicine and a really big cover for your wound, and it was a lot more steps than putting on a band-aid, right?"
More nods from his dark and prickly head.
"That was because the wound was so much bigger, and if the doctor didn't carefully treat it you'd get an infection, and the wound won't properly heal, you might even get sicker in other places." I continued.
"When my friend Max broke his arm, he had to get a whole cast and not use it for three months." he finally piped in.
"That's right, because he hurt his bones, a really deep wound that needs even more steps to properly treat. Grandma's grief is an even bigger wound, because when grandpa left, she got left... with.. a lot of holes like that piece of paper that got torn apart again.., one way that helps her mend, is saying goodbye to grandpa with us around her, as many times as it takes. From crying together and praying at the hospice, to the funeral with our church and friends, to the burial and maybe some other ways, she needs to layer all different treatments on her wounds, so it is properly cleaned up and bound up together."
I pause to watch the boy's yogurt melt and drip down his spoon, forming a pool of milky puddle in his still half full cup.
I continue. "This is true for you and me too. It is a blessing that our family is together to say goodbye to grandpa however many times it takes. When I was little, I didn't understand how to say goodbye to people who left either, and several times..., that did leave some wounds in me that surfaced again years later. When it did, it was so much pain all over."
"I know! Was this the friend you wrote a story about?" He sits up straighter, an I-know-what-this-is-about look on his face.
"It was her and some others..." My voice started to trail away.
Heat from the departing sun reddens one side of my face while early evening breezes cools the other. Life splashes on around us, soaking me in their palpable joy and the ebbs and flows of my memories. No longer teary, I left my cup of creamy confection alone on the steps to do the crying for me.
The boy finally broke the silence. "So it's like a band-aid for her loss, when grandma put a small box into a big box." The boy concluded, suddenly years wiser beyond his age.
"Yeah, its our band-aid of sorrows", I added, knowing there are lots more to say but perhaps yet more time and occasions to say them. And that no matter the time, these words, this clarity, would heal but not outlast the scars as a reminder for our losses, our pain and what once felt like insurmountable grief, and I wouldn't want it any other way.