News of a neighbor’s death caused me to ponder what practical help I could offer the family. As I made my mental list, I remembered a long-ago scene.
Even though our children were young when my grandmother died, they remembered sweet visits with her. So my husband and I decided to take them to the funeral with us. As we drove, we reminded 6-year-old Jay and 5-year-old Holly about heaven and emphasized that Mama’s soul, the part we couldn’t see, was with the Lord.
Then we told them about the part we could see. We described how Mama would be lying in a big box called a coffin and would be surrounded by flowers. We talked about the people who would be there, many of whom would be crying because Mama couldn’t talk to us anymore.
We talked about the hymns we would sing, what the minister would say, and the procession to the cemetery for the burial. Then we asked if they had any questions. Holly shook her head, but Jay asked about practical matters such as how the men would take the coffin to the cemetery.
As we arrived at the funeral home, we gripped the children’s hands and walked to the flowered area. As I studied the dear ancient face and pondered memories of Mama’s encouragement, Holly stood on tiptoe beside me. Still years away in my thoughts, I was started by Holly’s question.
“Is she breathin’?” she whispered.
We hadn’t anticipated that. And her question required more than a quick, “Well, of course not!” Suddenly trying to explain death to myself was difficult. How could I make a child understand?
“Well, Holly. . . .” I stalled.
Jay turned from studying the coffin handles and faced his little sister.
“No, Holly,” he said. “She’s not breathing. Remember? The breathin’ part is in heaven.”
Since that long-ago day, I’ve had to stand before all too many coffins. But even with tears running down my cheeks, I’m comforted as I remember a little voice confidently announcing, “The breathin’ part is in heaven.”