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Stories

Stories, observations, and reflections from a life of raising boys

The Great Valley

Jenifer DeMattia

I should consider myself lucky that I have lived 32 years knowing my grandmother. That before she passed away last week, she was able to live a life in which she met my children. That my 4-year-old was able to tell her that he loved her. Feel lucky. Feel grateful. I keep telling myself that over and over again. What I thought was the most difficult part was telling my son that nanny is no longer here on this earth. How do you tell a child that someone they love has died? The day she took her last breath I was next to her holding my 8-month-old son. We had gone everyday because I knew what was to be expected. After it happened I put my baby in the car and we drove away. My mom and uncle stayed behind. Our destination was to pick up his brother and head home. That night it was just the three of us at home because my husband was working late. I laid in bed with my oldest and decided it was the best time to talk about nanny.

I asked him if he remembered why he was with his nana and grampy that day. He told me I was seeing nanny. I told him I was saying goodbye to nanny. That she went to heaven and was dancing with angels now. I looked up at the ceiling and back at him. He was smiling. He said nanny was not dancing with the angels. He said she was, “floating in space like an astronaut and looking for space aliens in black space with a shooting star and steam train dream train chugging through Earth with asteroid space balls of hot lava.” Well, that did not go quite as expected but I had done it. I told him nanny was gone and I felt better. He was just a kid. I couldn’t possibly expect him to grasp what I’m talking about. Nor should he. A person only gets to see the world from his magical perspective for such a short time.

As the days passed, I realized I didn’t feel better. I couldn’t believe she was gone. I couldn’t accept that I would never talk to her again or touch her soft hands. It was crushing and suffocating. After the children were asleep a few days later, I was lying on my bedroom floor and my husband was looking down on me from our bed. We were talking about death and life. I was feeling overwhelmed with emotion, and then I spoke. Adding a little laughter to the conversation, only not on purpose.

“Did God create dinosaurs?” I said with a smile on my face. We both laughed, and I held my head in my hands. It was all too much. I realized right then and there, telling my son about nanny was not the hardest part. The hardest part was accepting it all for myself. Nanny and dying in general. God. All of it. It just came at me all at once.

And then, as I removed my hands from my face, with tears streaming down my cheeks I was amazed to see my son standing there. He first announced that he wanted to give us hugs. So he did. He hugged me and then climbed on the bed to hug his dad. Then he looked at us both as he said this:

“Many eons ago, when the Earth was young, millions of years before the first humans, was the age of the great lizards, the dinosaurs. These massive creatures roamed the Earth for thousands of centuries. Some ate plants. While others, the dreaded sharp teeth, hunted their fellow dinosaurs. But the plant eaters found refuge from their predators in one special place. The Great Valley…”

He had memorized the introduction to The Land Before Time II.

My first thought was that my question about God and the dinosaurs was answered. My second thought was there was no way he could have heard me. The kid will not sleep without his noisy fan on and his room is down the hall. My third thought was a flashback to middle school when my science teacher used to always repeat, “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” I guess he was right. It is true that my son has an incredible memory. He can hear something a few times, and it if holds his interest, he can repeat it back word for word. He had probably seen the movie three times. But it was his sudden appearance in the doorway, and the timing of his dialogue that brought a calming over us. Our 4-year-old made it all better that night and provided a lesson I will never forget.

You should never be afraid to tell a child about a loved one passing away. The truth is they already know everything is going to be ok. After all, children are the closest ones to heaven. Their minds are so open and they see only the good. They are pieces of heaven walking this earth. It is my children who I look to for strength, and they provide the assurance I need to know that one day I will see my grandmother again, perhaps even talk to her and hold her hand. But for now, when I miss her, I will look to my boys for signs, and confirmations that although I will never see a dinosaur, there is no doubt they existed.