“When I Grow Up….”

“….I want to be a doctor”.

This is what 3M told me the other night. Such aspirations so early! My child is headed to Harvard Medical School! Time to put on my Tiger Mom hat…

Kidding. She also told me this while she was putting my belt on as a bra.

It is not surprising that the doctor is on her mind, seeing as she’s had the eye crud and strep throat (which the doctor decided to check for after she saw 3M stick her finger up her nose and then immediately in her mouth. Ew.) requiring lots of medicine and eye ointment to get better.

I told her that was a nice goal to have for when she grows up. I asked her what she would do as a doctor.

“I will make all the kids better. Except cousin E. He’s already in heaven because I wasn’t a dult (that is not a typo, that is how she says “adult”) when he was sick. But I am going to go up to heaven and bring him back and put him in my doctor’s chair. And cousin C.”

That’s right. Her cousin E is in heaven. At 11 years old. So is cousin C, at 1 month old, whom she never met.

It is very hard to explain death and heaven to a 3 1/2-year-old.

And I’ve had to do it twice.

In one year.

When 3M’s cousins, identical twin girls CA and CD, were born she called them “CA and CD” like they were one person. I don’t think she got the concept that there were 2. She just thought it was one name, more like “caandcd”.

After complications from intestine infections (or NEC- Necrotizing Enterocolitis), CD passed away. I grappled with how, and HOW MUCH, to tell 3M. I decided simple was the best road to take. Also, I am not so sure how well I would be able to communicate much more anyways,  given my own emotions.

I told her “CD got sick and unfortunately the doctors couldn’t make her better and when we go visit Auntie, Uncle and Miss C, we will only see CA, not CD. CD is in heaven.”

“So only CA, not CD?”


“Oh. Okay.”

And that was it. No questions, no why’s. Just, “okay”.

Until 2 months later.

We received news that Cousin E had an inoperable brain tumor, a rare type of pediatric brain cancer called DIPG (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma). DIPG is terminal upon diagnosis and the only treatment options were clinical trials. The whole family was devestated and in shock.

Again, how and HOW MUCH to tell 3M. This is a cousin she knew, that she would see soon. A loved cousin who would be very changed from the last time she saw him.

Again, I went simple.

“Cousin E is sick and doctors are helping him to feel better. He will be a bit more tired when you see him.”

“Is he in heaven with Cousin C?”

Wow. She remembered. I can’t remember where I put my key’s 5 minutes ago and she remembers a conversation we had 2 months ago.

“No, he is with his mommy and daddy at home. His doctors are working really hard to make him feel better.”

“They should give him a band-aid, that will make his boo-boo go away”.

Oh, sweet 3M, if only that were true.

When Cousin E passed away one year later, I again had the task of trying to explain death and heaven to a very young child. I told her that Cousin E was in heaven and when we went to visit her cousins next time we wouldn’t see him.

“Well, Cousin C will see him. They can play in heaven.”

Wow. Aren’t kids amazing?

“Yes, that’s right. Cousin C and Cousin E can play in heaven.”

“And when we go visit them in heaven, then I can play with them, too.”

Whoa boy.

“Well sweetie, heaven is a long ways away and once you are there you can’t come back and people can’t visit.”

“Well, we can just take an airplane.”

Don’t I wish sweets, don’t I wish.

A few months later, when her cousin Miss C and CA were coming to visit, she asked why CD wasn’t coming, too. I reminded her that CD was in heaven.

“With Cousin E”

“That’s right. With Cousin E.”

“Well, I thought she was going to grow up to be a big sister and come visit.”

I guess there is no simple. A 3-year-old just can’t grasp it. And I think that is a good thing. It would be nice to not know death and heaven are absolute.  It would be nice to be carefree and unaware of all the diseases and illnesses that can grab your precious loves and take them from you too soon or at a moments notice. It would be nice when each time you had a chocolate chip cookie and exclaimed “this is Cousin E’s favorite!” you had a smile on your face that didn’t come with a side of teary eyes.

After 3M said she was going to bring Cousin E back from heaven, I explained to her that she can’t, that heaven is someplace you visit forever.

“Mommy, we don’t say “can’t””. Which is true; in our house we don’t say “I can’t”. So now how do I tell her that there are exceptions, that there are some things you can’t do?

I won’t.  I am fine with just sticking to the “we aren’t going to see them when we visit, and heaven is too far to visit” line. No need to elaborate. Not yet.

While she can’t bring Cousin E back, she could perhaps be that person that goes on to be a doctor and cures cancer and other diseases and makes sure no one else has to tell their child 2 times in one year that their cousin has died.

Perhaps I should put on my Tiger Mom hat after all….

Hug your loves, people. And tell them you love them every day.


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