On the way to work I can fall into the most difficult conversations with Emma. First, we're talking about coyotes. She got a cute little fuzzy coyote in her stocking from Santa. So we talk about the coyotes in the area, why she doesn't see them, how they kill the farmer's sheep so the farmers might shoot them if they see them. Then she naturally assumes that when the sheep die they go to heaven and see Baby Jesus. I didn't really feel like going into the whole thing where animals don't really go to heaven, but it didn't matter because she immediately switched topics.
"When people die how do they get to heaven?"
"Well, their souls, the part of them that is most special to God, goes to heaven and their bodies stay here."
"Then how will I walk around when I get to heaven?"
"God can give you a new body."
"Mama, am I going to die?"
Big sigh. "Yes, Emma, everybody dies someday. But most people don't die until they're really, really old."
"Mama, I want to stop having birthdays when I'm ten. Can you do that for me?"
(We've actually heard this solution to the "dying problem" several times before)
"Honey, I can't do that."
"Mommy, I don't want to die." The tears begin.
"Emma, you're not going to die for a really, really long time. Not until you're very old."
"How do I get back from Heaven?"
"Once you go to Heaven you never come back."
"You're there forever?"
"I don't want to get old." The tears are really flowing now.
Now we're at Mary's and her face is wet with tears. But she continues once we're inside.
"Mommy, I don't want to get old." (As she's standing near to 85 year-old Arnet)
"Honey, it's a blessing to get old. It means you get to live a long life and see lots of things."
Mary talks to her a bit and tries to distract her.
As I'm preparing to leave Emma looks at me,
"Mommy, when I go heaven I won't see you again. I don't want die and go to heaven."
Now I really need to go to work.
"Emma, please stop worrying. You're not going to die for a very, very long time. I will see you this afternoon. You're going to be all right, now please cheer up."
Thank goodness I'm leaving her in the hands of a devoted Christian woman who won't steer her wrong or make things worse. As I was trying to break away Mary was asking her about the little animals she was carrying and working hard to distract her. It's damned hard to walk away when all you really want to do is cuddle her in your arms and reassure her that you "will" be there for her. Forever, if you can.