"I'd like to talk to Graham about God and Heaven," Graham's babysitter said last week. She is a dear family friend and was my late mother-in-law's best friend.
"That is, if you don't mind."
And I don't mind, exactly. But neither did I know exactly how to respond.
"He keeps asking me about his Oma," she continued. "I told him she was in Heaven with God but he's asking me what that means...I think it might be a comfort to him."
A comfort to him! What kind of mother denies her child comfort - any kind of comfort - when he is dealing with the loss of someone so dear to him?
"Well, sure, of course you can, I don't mind," I stuttered. "I...I've been meaning to talk to him about...that stuff..."
And I have been...kinda...sorta...eventually.
I did not grow up in a religious household. I do not consider myself a Christian, per se. I say "Bless you" when people sneeze and I accept with gratitude offers from people who say they will keep me in their prayers. I may even say I will do the same, but what that actually means is that I will keep them in my thoughts and hope for the very best for them.
Twenty years ago I was deeply touched by the reglious devotion of Grace, my former university roomate and good friend who died in 2006. Just a few months ago I was touched again and reminded anew of how religion can inspire people to be good and kind - so very, very good and kind - when her friends and family came out in droves to thank me for writing about her and to offer me their blessings and prayers.
Only once in my adult life have I felt compelled to truly commune with a higher power outside a church in a manner that was heartfelt and spontaneous. It was four years (to the day) prior to my mother-in-law's death two weeks ago when, after a year of trying, and a doctor's opinion that it wasn't possible, I saw a pink line that indicated a positive pregnancy test.
I fell on my knees and thanked God.
I have never considered myself an Atheist, as much as an Agnostic. That is to say, I think I am typical of many young, urban, career-oriented adults who wrap themselves in a comfortable, vague religious cloak woven with various threads including: "There's probably * some* kind of a higher power" and "I believe in Karma" and "Let's be kind."
But none of those platitudes seem adequate right now.
Vague notions of Karma and kindness are no match for the cold, hard realities of death and I feel silly for not realizing that religion and God, and my views on religion and God, are something I should have figured out by now, for Graham's sake and especially for my own.
Rob is very much a Catholic. He attended a private boys' school, was an altar boy and considers the Pope his spiritual leader. (Yes, he was disappointed by recent pronouncements on condom use to fight AIDS in Africa and assisted reproductive technology, but that's another matter).
When Rob and I first started dating I found his religious beliefs exotic, particularly because they were coupled with a strong scientific bent. I remember being intoxicated by the late-night debates we would have about whether someone leading a decidedly... ahem... modern lifestyle could or should try and reconcile that with their Christian beliefs. I think I fell in love with him the day he showed up on my doorstep with a copy of God and The Astronomers and implored me to read it.
I knew that Rob would go directly from the hospital where his mother died to the church where he received his First Communion and he did just that.
And part of me envied him.
Part of me feels deeply envious of people who are secure in their belief of God and Heaven and part of me feels inadequate for not having provided my son with a belief system that can sustain him throughout this difficult time in his life.
But I fear that rushing to impress the notion of God and Heaven and the afterlife on Graham now because it would make things easier for me would mark the height of hypocrisy, given that for the past three years I have virtually ignored his religious education because it made things easier for me.