NOTE: Since this past week has brought so much heartache and uncertainty, and because this is Memorial Day weekend, when we celebrate those who have sacrificed for our freedom, I wanted to re-post an article I wrote that first appeared in In Touch magazine. As a mom, I found it very hard to explain the concept of eternity and heaven to my kids. But God found a way, as He always does, although in my case He is often forced to take the scenic route. Here’s a little glimpse into what I believe heaven will be like. May you find comfort in it.
“He’s not there anymore, kids. That’s just his body. One day we’ll see him again, and he’ll be healthy and strong.”
My children stared at the frail frame lying in the coffin. Their grandfather, Papa Craig, had died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. James, my 9 year old son, looked at me and nodded. He believed my words, and so did his sisters, seven-year-old Elise and five-year-old Lauren—but did they understand them? Could children this young really grasp the idea of heaven, the hope that one day Papa Craig would run to them, whole and healthy, and there would be no more sorrow? How could I help little children to understand heaven when I still had questions about it? Although I make my living as a writer, words completely failed me at that moment. I felt I had failed my children, too.
We returned home from the funeral and life resumed, as it always does, frantic and furious, one season racing into the next, my days a blur of deadlines and carpools. Only sometimes, when I slept with my windows open and my bed was lit by a thousand stars beyond my reach, only then would I contemplate heaven and its mysteries. Only then would I return to the heartache of believing in a heaven I could not fully describe to my children.
“What’s wrong with Grendel, mommy?” little Lauren asked. I glanced up from my computer to see our fifteen year old Bearded Collie stagger and fall as he tried to get to the back door. He had never done this before. My stomach tightened and I bit my lip. I always knew Grendel would not be with us forever but I had dreaded this moment. I had adopted Grendel when he was a puppy and I was still single. It was Grendel who had picked out a husband for me at a party: Grendel had spied Mitch and jumped into his lap, refusing all evening to budge. I knew Mitch had to be special if my dog was so crazy over him.
After Mitch and I married and began our family, my son would dress Grendel up as a Darth Vader and grab a Light Saber, both of them playing for hours before coming inside to steal cookies while I typed. When my girls came along, Grendel was often invited to tea parties, although my girls claimed he had no manners, eating too quickly and belching after cucumber sandwiches.
We weren’t ready to lose Grendel yet, not so soon after Papa Craig’s death. “I’m sorry,” our vet Dr. Jan said over the phone. I had called, trying not to cry, detailing Grendel’s symptoms. “Because of his age, and the symptoms you describe, the news isn’t good. It sounds like Grendel has had a spinal embolism. It’s an event he will not be able to recover from.” Before I hung up, I made an appointment for that afternoon to bring Grendel in for euthanasia.
Once again, I found myself explaining heaven to my children, and explaining that death was not the real end for any of us, including God’s creatures. “Please, God,” I prayed silently, “I don’t have the words they need. Please show them what heaven is. Help my children to understand.”
We drove to the vet’s, Grendel in my lap to feel the breeze on last time on his face. When we arrived at the clinic, Mitch lifted Grendel out of the van and onto the ground. Sobbing, we all held hands and thanked God for giving us so many years with this incredible, and incredibly silly dog that we loved so much. Then as my husband carried Grendel up the stairs into the clinic, my children began wailing.
“Just one more day, Daddy! Please! Give us one more day with Grendel!” I could barely breathe I was crying so hard. The children grew so distraught that after Mitch carried Grendel inside, he turned and took the kids home.
“We started this adventure together, buddy,” I whispered to Grendel, “and now it’s just us again. Wait for me on the other side, ok?”
Dr. Jan, had the room ready for us: dim lights, a quilt on the floor so I could lie down with Grendel as they gave him the injection, his “deceased pet” paperwork already printed. Dr. Jan came in and knelt down to look at Grendel, ruffling his furry head, and then she gasped. Apparently I had missed a symptom–the irises of his eyes seemed to shake side to side just the littlest bit as she studied them.
“We’re not putting him down today! This isn’t an embolism, Ginger—it’s an ear infection!”
A severe middle ear infection had caused Grendel to become dizzy and lose his coordination. Dr. Jan gave him a huge injection of steroids and antibiotics as I called my husband, choking out the news. Grendel began an immediate, dramatic recovery. I will never forget seeing my husband drive up the hill to the clinic, and seeing my kids throw open the van doors, screaming and cheering as they raced toward the clinic—and Grendel bounding out to meet them, grinning ear to ear under all that hair.
God did what I could not: He spoke in language that my children understood, the language of love between a child and a dog.
God made heaven real to them, to us all, in that moment. Earth is when we weep for the pain of death, barely able to stand our hearts breaking, and heaven is that moment when the doors are thrown open and we run, whole and healthy, screaming and laughing, wild with joy, racing straight for each other’s arms.
This weekend, and every morning that God gives you, too, one more day, remember that the best is yet to come.
“Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14, EST translation)