When it came to their spiritual development my kids were looking to us hoping one of their parents might know what we are talking about.
 
Our first challenge came up after my mother in law died. I was tucking them in when Brendan wanted to know where Grandma Brady had gone when she died. He got philosophical like this about ten minutes before bedtime.
After a lengthy disclaimer on how I didn’t believe in reincarnation and heaven wasn’t a real place but a state of mind, I became impatient and blurted out.
“She has gone back to nature.”
“What’s nature?” Asked the four-year-old Laurel.
“Its the land, the water, the air, and the trees. She is part of the landscape.”
The next night we were eating dinner, and the wind was howling hard, and Brendan began to cry.
 
“Grandma must be scared out there tonight.”
 
“Why?”
 
“Living in the trees, she must get cold.”
 
“She isn’t living in the trees; she’s a part of the trees,” I said.
 
“How could she be part of a tree? Is she bark? Is she a leaf?
 
David walked into the room. “My mother is not a leaf. For God’s sake. What are you teaching them?”
 
I shot him a dirty look.
 
“No. No.” I said. “Not an actual leaf. More like a seed in the karmic dance of life.”
 
“So, Grandma is out there dancing?”
 
“No, her spirit is dancing.”
 
“No, Deb. My mother isn’t somewhere dancing the Hokey-Pokey.” He turned to the children. “Listen, kids, my mother was a wonderful religious woman. She is in heaven.”
 
“Well, you don’t know that, David. I mean heaven is more of a concept than a geographical location.
 
“Yes it is and if anyone is going to that place, it’s my mother. She was a saint!” Then he turned to Brendan. “Grandma is in heaven. She is sitting at the right hand of God, I can tell you that!”
Without missing a beat, Brendan said, “So if she’s in heaven, can she see me when I pee?”
 
“No. My mother doesn’t watch people pee. Honest to God, Deb what have you put into these kids’ heads?”
 
Then he walked off to the bathroom to have a leak.
 
The next existential dilemma was when our dog killed the hamster.
 
Here are the highlights: The hamster’s cage got left open. Shorty was a terrier. And he tore the hamster to bits in front of my kids as well as two other children who were there for a play date. A cacophony of kids crying ensued. Then David came to rescue and tried to give it CPR.
Not mouth to mouth so much. But some light compressions with his pink fingers on the hamster’s chest. I started chirping,
 
“Look the damn thing is dead.”
 
Everyone started screaming at me. Apparently, I was being negative.
 
“Everything is not like Lord of the Flies, Deb. I will not give up hope.”
 
So he and the dead hamster took on an expensive trip to the vet.
 
While he was at the vet I was back at home throwing sugar at the problem. The kids too distraught to eat the cookies but I managed to stick two -dozen of them in my pie hole.
 
Things had almost calmed down when David came back with the hamster in a Chinese food take out container!
 
With just the right amount of gravity, David said, “Well, kids I have some bad news for you…Fluffy has gone bye –bye.”
 
They screamed in horror again and then had to look at the dead animal, fascinated how stiff he was.
 
“That’s rigor-mortis setting in.” David said.
 
That night Brendan got in the tub and cried, so loud he put a plastic bucket on his head to muffle the sound.
 
He also did this when he swore. He used to say shit a lot, and I told him he could only curse if he was in private. So he started putting a bucket on his head in the tub and saying, shit, fuck damn, over and over again.
 
The hamster night he was sitting with his bucket on his noggin. I was scanning my brain for the right things to say so I decided to resort back to the old-school- God.
 
“God wanted him Fluffy back with Him in heaven.”
 
Just like that Brendan took the bucket off his head and wiped the tears from his eyes.
 
There wasn’t even a hiccupping sob, as he padded off in his Homer Simpson slippers.
 
I finally got it right. Obviously, the heaven concept was comforting to him. It was concrete proof that Grandma and Fluffy weren’t gone up in smoke. They existed in a place with a postal code. And don’t we all need concrete answers in the middle of our grief?
But the next night he got in the bath, put the bucket on his head and began wailing.
 
When I drew back the shower curtain, there he was lying with an orange sand pail on his head, shaking his fists at the heavens.
“What kind of God kills an innocent hamster?”
 
A question that many great philosophers have wrestled with since time immemorial.
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