While I was out at Target on Sunday evening, purchasing the items my kids needed for camp the next day (yes, I waited until the last minute as usual), a mini-crisis was erupting back at my parents’ house. We were visiting them for the afternoon, and my husband stayed behind to watch the kids while I shopped. Little did I know that a cartoon turtle named “Franklin” would be causing my 6-year-old daughter immense pain.
When I came back with the camp gear and some pizza, I called the family into the kitchen for dinner. My husband and daughter didn’t respond, so I went into the den to investigate. There they were, sitting in the dimly lit room, holding each other and crying. Apparently my eldest child inherited my existential angst and my husband’s proclivity for crying at sad movies – a dastardly combination.
Because outward expressions of emotion make me uncomfortable, I went straight into problem solving mode. “Why’s everyone so sad?” I inquired. Apparently, (as my husband explained) this “children’s” cartoon that my daughter had been watching was about Franklin’s grandmother who had lost both of her parents to a fire when she was a child. And they left nothing to the imagination. The flames, the smoke, how she helplessly watched her house burn down, knowing her parents were still in it – the stuff that nightmares are made of – was all there. The episode then ended with the grandmother on her deathbed. (With such upbeat kids’ programming, we’d probably do better having our daughter watch the 11 o’clock news before retiring at night!)
Through her tears, my daughter kept repeating, “she was so sad when she lost her mommy and daddy,” and “she’ll never see them again.” “Note to self,” I thought as I picked up my daughter and put her on my lap, “have husband do shopping next time while I stay behind with kids.” But I knew that even if my daughter had missed the show under my watch, sooner or later she’d realize that death of a loved one could come at any point and bring with it incredible pain and sorrow.
My husband, still visibly shaken up, told my daughter that we have to make the best of the time we have together, and hopefully there will be many, many good times ahead for us all. But I interrupted him because I felt that his answer was a secondary one and not the most important message to convey. The truth is, we have no idea how much time we’ll have together, and no matter how much we have, it will never be enough because when it comes to this-worldly experiences, people always want more of the good ones. So I steered the conversation towards the spiritual – a realm that has no limits or boundaries.
“There’s no doubt,” I began, “that death is a sad thing and that we’ll miss the people we love once they’re gone. When I think about losing the people that I love, or the fact that I don’t know exactly what will happen after I die, I get sad and scared too. But you have to keep this in mind, baby,” I continued, “Hashem (God) has a plan for every single one of us and loves us so, so, so much. Hashem is also always watching over us, so whatever happens in this world and the next is exactly what we need.” I went on, “I know it’s hard to just believe that everything will be OK without knowing all the details, but that’s why we have to work on trusting Hashem and connecting every single day. That’s what doing mitzvos (commandments) and davening (praying) are all about. The more we do them, the more we learn to trust.”
That night as we drove back home, our younger two kids dozed off right away, both still blissfully unaware of the ultimate outcome that awaits us all. My oldest was understandably having trouble falling asleep, though, so my husband and I sang her the bedtime songs (verses from the Torah and prayers) that we sing every night, plus a few extras. As we sang about the angels who bless and protect her, how the presence of God sits right above her, and how there’s nothing to fear when Hashem is with her, I realized two things: Number one – in a few years from now, if we’d dare belt out such harmonies in a car (or any other enclosed space that she was trapped in), she would beg us until we stopped. And number two – with all the hopes and dreams I have for my children, for all the goodness and blessing I hope they’ll know their entire lives, helping them foster a strong relationship with God is the most important thing I can ever give them. It will comfort and protect them long after I’ll be able to.