“Mama! Maaa-ma!” he cried from the kids’ dark bedroom. I went to him; he was curled up on his knees on the top bunk bed, his face streaming tears.
“Hey, Jobie…what’s going on? I’m here…it’s mama; are you awake?” I reached up for him so that he could feel the weight of my hands, and know I was there. His eyes and the tears on his cheeks caught the bits of light coming through the door.
“You died, mama! You were dead,” he sobbed, “and you were in a big hole.”
“I’m here, honey; it must have been a dream; feel me? I’m right here.”
“But you died, and they dug a hole, and it’s dark down there…,” his voice hiccupped out.
A hole, a big hole; the image took shape for me…
“Ahhh…the hole…like the one we saw on television earlier?”
“I don’t know…Ye-ess…yes”…” I could see his head nodding now in short jerks.
“Mmmm…Here, scoot over closer to me…” My arms were getting numb from the ladder pressing into them…”where they were digging for things made by people who lived long ago? The archaeologists? Remember?” He nodded; his lower lip still quivering, shoulders still shaking, his eyes wide with fear.
“It did look like a grave, didn’t it? But I’m here; it was a dream, and I’m alive; and I’ll be staying here with you…”
“Do you promise, mama?” (oh, boy…please don’t ask me what happens when we die…)
“Well, I hope so…I hope to be here for a long time…before I die…” I trailed off.
“But you’ll die…why will you die, mama? Mama!” he sobbed again.
“Well, everyone dies some day, honey, it’s just the plan…even the plants and the trees and the animals…it must be okay to die…” I ventured lamely.
“Yeah, like Pepper the spaniel dog,…and the cats who got old and sick…”
“But I was in the big hole, and it was dark…dark…I think I was dead.”
“Hmmm…I thought I was in the hole, sweetie.” I kept stroking his back, big slow circles over the silly knit Superman pajamas he’d chosen…
“I don’t know…” He lay down on his side, and I stroked his forehead and giant black curls.
He continued for a bit to mix our deaths together: me, mama…me…mama…then separate them again.
“When will you die? Oh, mama…”
“When you’re old?”
“Yes…probably when I’m old. And maybe by then I’ll be ready to die, and it’ll be okay, ya know? Death is bound to be a good thing. Some people call it crossing over, like there are good things on the other side…”
“Oh, mama…when you get old and you can’t walk very well? Oh, mama, don’t die, and I’ll hold your hand and I’ll walk you to the bathroom! I’ll get you a cane to use!” He started to sob again in earnest. But the image! This tiny brown boy leading me to the bathroom…My heart ached as it grew another size bigger to accommodate his soulful generosity and simple solution to keep his mama alive. In his wee world, all that stood between his mama and death was a visit to the bathroom!
Ah, Lord; what a picture…”I know you will, honey,” I finally couldn’t help laughing softly.
“I’ll take care of you…”
“I know you will, Jobie…” I patted him a bit longer, stroked his forehead…his breath came easier now.
“Here; let me get some Kleenex for a blow.” He blew.
“How about a song? Softly, though; Rory’s still asleep. Okay?”
“Okay. And I’ll wait with you until you go back to sleep.
Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and a hoe
And a piece of fertile ground
Inch by inch, row by row
Someone bless these seeds I sow
Someone warm them from below
Till the rain comes tumblin’ down
Pullin’ weeds and pickin’ stones
Man is made of dreams and bones
Feel the need to grow my own
Cause the time is close at hand
Rainful rain, sun and rain
Find my way in nature’s chain
Tune my body and my brain
To the music from the land…”
© David Mallett
“G’night, Jobie; sleep tight…I love you…”
When I got in bed later, thoughts and images tumbled around in my head. Could it be Morpheus who enters our dreams to teach us the things we need to know, but need help to learn? How does he choose which mortals to instruct with his woven imagery, then stroke with his wings to lull us back into the forgetfulness of sleep? Did he tangle mother and son together in the dreamworld of this small boy to nudge him into acceptance of his mortality, our mortality in the best way possible? I like to think so.
What a gift to be part of this rite of passage so few speak about…how many of us met our new knowledge of mortality alone and afraid to mention it to those around us who loved us…afraid perhaps, to burden them with our new realizations? As though they might be too fragile to bear it? And we stayed silent, thus securing no solace for ourselves? I remember doing just that: lying frozen is fear in bed at night a few times, wondering what not-being would be like: no breath, no sight, no awareness. And I felt afraid and alone, but never spoke about it. Did Morpheus come to me back then, and help melt my terror through good dreaming? I don’t remember; but I’d like to think so.
And why weren’t there celebrations of those events, as there are for bar and bat mitzvahs, quinces, sweet-sixteen parties, graduations? There should be, I swear. “Today we honor Wendy, who knows now, and has accepted, that she is mortal, and part of a great revolving wheel of life and death; may she live her life well, and with good intention. We assembled here today will do all we can to teach her, and comfort her, and help her along the road of her life. And when it is her turn to die, may she have others surrounding her, aiding in her final journey.”
Isn’t that how it should be?