Sunday, January 26, 2003

Big Lessons

Before bed, Niko and I always hang out upstairs by ourselves for a while. I help him get dressed. We read or make a burrow for him to hide in. Tonight, just out of the bath, Niko plopped down on the big bed with a towel wrapped around him. He looked straight at me, his elbows on the bed, each hand on a cheek holding up his head, each eye as big as the harvest moon, and said, "Niko's doing a little thinking."

I asked him what he was thinking about.

"Baby"—that's our bird—"is old but not very old," he said.

I said that was right.

"Daddy," Niko said, "when is Baby going to die?"

I told him I didn't know, but that Baby was happy and healthy and he would probably live for a long, long time.

We talked more about Baby. About how he was 25 and parakeets can live to be 40, which means we have thousands and thousands of happy days to spend with Baby.

Then Niko asked about when Sammy, our cat, would die. I tried to explain that we don't know for sure, we can never know, but that most people and most animals get to live for a long time. Gradually, Niko asked about the most important people in his life—about his grandma Oonka, about me. Notably, there was one person he couldn't bring himself to ask about. Yep. Mommy.

We talked more about when people die and why they die. Then Niko said: "Somebody died. Somebody we like."

So I told him.

"Yes, Dorothy died. She was very old and after a long, full life, she died. We're all very sad that Dorothy died, but we're also happy that we get to have the memory of Dorothy, who was so nice and did so many great things for people."

Niko thought long and hard about all the things I was telling him this night, and he thought long and hard about this. He said, "Sombody else died. Somebody else who Mommy loves."

Mommy came upstairs just then, and Niko asked her what person who she loved had died. She said that Dorothy had and talked about Dorothy.

"Somebody else died, Mommy. Who else died who you loved?"

Rebecca said her Grandpa had, and she talked about how that made her sad, but she always felt happy that she had the memory of her wonderful Grandpa with her.

It was then that Niko began to cry. He was sitting in my lap. My eyes had filled with tears several minutes ago—for Dorothy and her friends and loved ones, for those of us who now missed Dorothy, and for Niko who now knew about death.

Now Niko was crying. "Curt is very sad," he said, referring to Dorothy's husband, who indeed is very sad. His sobs were gentle. We held him, touched him. Told him it was OK.

"Crying can help the sadness go away," I said after a while. I took a deep breath. "And a deep breath can help you relax." Niko took a deep breath. He yawned and rubbed his bleary eyes. It was time to go to bed.

Post script: The Napa Register published a very nice piece the day after Dorothy Searcy passed. You can read it here.