“People get sick. Sometimes they die.”
These were the words his father spoke to him as they sat in the rain. Everything seemed strange. Somewhere inside was his mother.
“You will not see your mother again,” his father was saying. “She has gone away.”
These words struck the boy as odd. She would never go away. She was permanent, always existing, like him. Like his father. They were inseparable, one piece, a unit.
“Where did she go?” he asked.
The boy did not like this answer. He had no idea of this place, only that it was far way, and people who went there did not come back. They liked it there too much. His mother would never go to such a place because she would rather be with him.
“Then tell her to come back,” said the boy.
“I can’t,” said his father, the rain trickling down his face.
“She can’t hear us,” his father said, then wished he had not used those words.
The boy looked at him. “Why?”
He embraced his son, pulled him to him, lifted he into his arms, and cried. The boy had not seen or heard his father cry. It frightened him. Something very bad had happened, he was sure.
The boy pushed away, and looked into his father’s face. “I want to go see her.”
“We can’t,” he said.
“She is inside, isn’t she? Let’s go back.”
“No, she’s not there.”
“Yes she is. We saw her. She went there to get better. She’s there. I know she is.”
“She’s gone now. She’s gone. She didn’t want to go away, but God called her to be with Him. She is happy now.”
The boy looked at his father again, that quizzical way he had when he heard grown-up words, his eyes unblinking, his face unmoving, as if conserving every ounce of energy to process some foreign data into a framework of meaning.
God, like death, was beyond the boy, outside the here and now of his life. The reality was the wetness of the rain, the hard touch of concrete and glass, the smell of cut grass, the softness of that grass against the bottoms of his feet, the warmth of sunshine on a summer day, the smell of his mother’s hair. He knew these things. He did not know “God” or “death.” He did not trust in a place like “heaven” if that is where his mother went. She would never go to such a place if it meant leaving him. Something was wrong, and he could not figure it out. His father was not telling him enough.
“Why?” he asked again. This word had been his portal to so much understanding of things. He knew it would work now, if he just kept asking. He would get his father to tell him why.