This image came up on my Facebook Memories today. August 13, last year. We’d gone to pick up Maki at the airport after his summer trip to New Zealand. Can you see how thrilled Justine is to see her brother again?
Here is a picture of them yesterday. Justine had come back from her trip with my mum. It was only five days away, but she hadn’t seen Maki since mid-June.
Actually, I’d say Maki looks happy to see her too. (Also note that he is wearing the Vernon Adams font tee with one of Daddy’s old shirts. Maki is already in his dad’s shirt and shoe size (and has a closet full of Vernon’s shirts and shoes.)
I got lots of lovely hugs from Justine and a shining stream of babbling chatter about all the things she did this week. One main story that she’d already told us about over the phone was that she’d found a dead baby bird and held it in her hands. She’d wanted to bring it back to life. I told her that I too had found a little dead bird one day…a few hours before I got news that my grandmother had died. I don’t know if Justine can make the connection to these symbols yet, but I’ll remind her of this story over the years. I told her that sometimes we get to notice special things like a little bird or a butterfly and they are little gifts from God, little gifts that show we are allowed to be connected to something really magical and big that is going on somewhere else…in this case, that someone will be going to heaven.
My mom had already told Justine that her dad was very sick in the hospital again. I don’t think that phased her too much, because he is so often in the hospital with some problem or another, but at least she was warmed up for the big news. Knowing my mother and their close relationship, I’m sure she found loving ways to engage Justine in conversations around the idea. But as soon as I had minute alone with her (we’d all gone out to get a bite, while waiting for Chris to bring Maki up) I told her the truth.
“Hey, Justine…you know that Daddy has been really sick lately, right? Well, I don’t think he’s gonna get better again this time. At least not here. He’s going up to Heaven soon.”
She’s a tough cookie and it takes a lot for her to crumble, but I could see the start of it in her face. She sat on my lap and started crying.
“I don’t want him to go to Heaven.”
“I know, Sweetheart. We will miss him so much. But listen…this is what is happening: you know how in Heaven, there is no sickness or pain? We’ve talked about this before. Well, Daddy has been in pain and has been sick for a LONG time. Soon he will be free of all that and he will become his perfect self. He’s already starting that process. You’ll see today. He is already more alert and like his old self than he has been for awhile.”
“So he’s getting better, right?”
“No Honey…he won’t be like this for very long. He’s changing and getting ready for his new body in Heaven. But we get to enjoy him and tell him we love him today. And he’s been asking to see you.”
I realized even after I said those things that this is a sort of Transfiguration: a spectacular exchange between this life and the next. My girlfriend Melissa, who came to visit the other night, said she remembered this happening with her dementia-addled grandmother. She suddenly remembered things and seemed so bright and delightful just before she died. She likened it to the changing of the autumn leaves, suddenly so colorful and vivid just before withering and falling away. Isn’t that a great analogy?
We were all together in the room when Justine saw her dad. Chris and Susan happened to already be in their with guitar. Maki and both my parents, and Chris were there too. A cloud of witnesses. She talked about her trip, her dad watching her intently, trying to capture every word.
She will be processing this a little differently because of her age. But I think she always thought he would come back to us, even though she doesn’t remember much of his previous time at home with us. Her memories of him are nearly all bedridden. So there is, I think, disappointment in her magical vision and even her childlike faith. Several times after this interaction, she asked me how he could be going to heaven when he’s doing so well, when “he’s like he used to be.” Bittersweet. I had to keep reminding her…its because he’s “becoming heavenly.”
Maki took a lot of tender time with her yesterday. They are there for each other in their own way. They even went to the climbing gym together in the afternoon…Justine thrilled to be showing off her new skills that she learned in his honor (trying to be like him) and Maki gently showing her the way.