Tonight, Morrison asked me about Caroline. I had just finished reading him a chapter from The Little Prince and was about to turn out the light when, out of nowhere, he said, “Hey Dad, is Mommy in Heaven?”
I paused, not wanting to delve into spiritual philosophy. The last time we treaded into that territory Morrison obsessed for weeks over the idea that he might one day be reincarnated as a turtle.
“I don’t know, buddy. Why?”
“Today at school Mrs. Franklin told us to draw a picture of our family and I drew a picture of me and you riding bikes together.”
“That’s great,” I said. “I like riding bikes with you.”
“I know, but when we had to share, this girl at my table named Sephora asked where Mommy was. I told her that she died. Then she asked me if Mommy was in Heaven like her grandma. Sephora said her grandma died last year and now she’s an angel.”
“Oh, I see. Well, I don’t really know, buddy. There’s many different ideas about what happens when we die, but no one knows for sure. It’s kind of up to you to decide what you want to believe.”
“Yeah, but Sephora said that when people die, they go to Heaven. Unless they’re bad. Then they go to Hell.”
That’s funny, I thought. You’d think that a girl with a name like Sephora would be more enlightened.
“She said that? Well, I don’t believe in Hell. To me, Hell is just a made up place intended to scare people into being good.”
“Then is Heaven a made up place too?”
“It might be,” I said. “Honestly, I can’t say. But I do know one thing, and that’s if Heaven does exist, Mommy is there.”
“Because she was good?”
“She wasn’t just good, she was the best. Mommy was smart, beautiful. Fun to be around. Nice to everyone she met. She could make you feel happy even when you were sad. I loved her more than anything.”
“More than me?”
“No,” I said, “not more than you. But just as much, and that’s a lot. More than all the stars in the sky.”
“And all the sand on the beach?”
“And all the sand on the beach.”
“Me too,” he said.
I smiled, camouflaging sorrow. That was a good talk, I thought. We avoided any references to The Tibetan Book of the Dead and Morrison’s afterlife curiosity had been assuaged for the time being. Now I’d say goodnight, go crack a beer and ruminate over Caroline’s untimely death for the remainder of the evening.
“Hey, Dad, how did Mommy die?”
The question was like a shot from the periphery, unseen until it struck. I took a deep breath and said, “Remember? I told you that she had a problem in her brain. It’s what doctors call an aneurysm.”
Morrison’s face was imbued with curiosity. “What’s an an-eur-ysm?”
“Well, it’s when a blood vessel gets all big and pops, kind of like a balloon.”
“Does it hurt?” he asked.
I thought about that night. Caroline woke up with a severe headache. I’d never seen her in so much pain. Then her vision went. She started vomiting. I called 9-1-1. By the time paramedics arrived, Caroline was unconscious. She died five hours later. Thursday, June 14th, 2006. Morrison had his first birthday one week earlier.
“I don’t know, buddy,” I said, ashamed of myself for feeling the need to lie. “But you don’t have to worry about it. What happened to Mommy is very rare – kind of like a bad accident.”
Mo looked concerned. “Does that mean that you won’t have an an-eur-ysm?”
“No, I won’t have an aneurysm. I’m going to be around until you’re an old man like me, and by then I’ll probably look like Grandpa Dmitri.”
“Really? That’s old!”
“I know,” I said, before kissing his forehead. “Now get some sleep.”
I closed the door behind me and made my way to the living room. When I sat down on the couch, my eyes had already begun to well with tears. I thought about Caroline. I told her I loved her; that I wished that she was there with me. Then my heart reached out to a God whose existence I had denied for years. With all the strength and humility I could muster, I asked that life not make even more of a liar out of me.