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Open Translation
“I know someone who died, and he wasn’t even old,” she told me softly with wide eyes. I could feel the hollow echo of tears that hadn’t yet reached my eyes but tugged at my throat. I waited, still, for her cue.
“My Uncle Johnny died in a car accident. He hit a tree and died. And he’s not coming back.”
“I know, sweetheart. It’s very sad what happened,” I said mournfully, searching for the right words to grieve with her before consoling her. What came out next surprised me:
“But he’s in heaven now and at peace in a better place.”
“But we don’t get to see him ever again,” she told me.
“And it makes me sad.” Both Hazel and Caleb had gone to preschool at a church where they also learned teachings from the Bible. As someone who did not grow up adhering to any religion, I tried not to get into the topic around them as much as possible.
“I know, honey. It’s okay. He’s still here. He’s not really gone.”
“But he’s in the ground in a graveyard.” Her directness cut straight through my desperate attempts at reassurance, giving voice to the harsh reality that I struggled to spare her from.
“Yes,” I conceded, “his body is, but his spirit lives on here and in heaven.”
“What is a spirit?” she asked.
“A spirit is like someone’s soul.”
“What is a soul?”
“Well…” What is a soul?
“It’s someone’s personality, like who they are inside. And he loves you very much. His soul will always be here because of how much he loves you and how much you and your family love him.” I closed my eyes in the darkness as tears welled up and a drop slid down my face.
“I love you so much,” I told her, giving her a kiss on her head and holding her close.
“Can I have some tickles on my arm?”
“Of course, honey.” Silently, we half-listened to a guitar strumming in the background. It occurred to me then that the playlist had been on loop, repeating for some time.
Her soft breaths grew deeper and slower as she drifted further into sleep. Watching her, I realized just how little she was. Little Hazel, whose heart is even bigger than her eyes, wide open in wonderment, with her relentless curiosity and imagination in which she has unlimited sisters who live underground “beneath the Earth’s crust”. And yet she was going through this traumatic loss. I didn’t experience that until I was 14 when my great-grandpa died, and he was 93.
Then again, when I was 10 years old my great-aunt also died in a tragic accident. She had been riding a motorcycle that malfunctioned after she had taken it to an auto shop for a tune-up. Her husband had been driving in the car behind her and saw it happen. Although I had only met her as an infant, her tragic death hit me hard.
When my dad first broke the news, I stood very still. Then I broke into tears and ran. I ran to my parents’ bedroom and shut the door. I ran toward their bathroom and shut the sliding door behind me. Lastly, I ran to the small enclosure that housed the toilet and closed that door. I felt both safe and trapped at the same time. There were no more doors to shut. My parents would come get me. I couldn’t hide. It was too horrible, too close.
I may not be religious, but I refuse to believe that souls cease to exist after death. I believe they live on through memories, sounds, places, objects, writings, or stories passed down. People interact with their environment and inevitably change it, make an impression. Everything and everyone is infused with the lives lived before. So although I may not subscribe to a religion, I do believe in souls and their interconnectedness. A soul is a triumph of life intransient.
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