It would be nice if there existed a manual that explained when to share different pieces of information or knowledge with your children. That way you would know at what age different topics were appropriate to talk about like sex, politics or finances. However, such a manual does not exist, and for Mr. Carter, the topic of death and heaven came at age five.
I was in my late 20s and working at 99X when I went to the Atlanta Humane Society and adopted a very young Siamese-mix. In fact, a woman there informed me I was only a few minutes ahead of her in grabbing that sweet little girl.
I gave the cat the name Akima, after Drew Barrymore’s character in the animated movie Titian A.E., and she shared 20 years with me. In that time I got sick, got well, was broke, found professional success, had two serious relationships, and became a mother. She was my friend not just a pet, and I am sad to report she passed away last week.
When I told Mr. Carter his head popped back in shock. Mind you we had already had the conversation of heaven, and that God decides the time when people and animals return there. I felt the need to begin that discussion at least a month or two ago since both Akima and my mother, Millie Pete, were elderly and I knew anything could happen at any time. So when he seemed shocked that Akima left first, I was almost regretful I said it so pragmatically.
After an afternoon of weeping, he calmed enough to change his initial questions of how and why to the fact his heart hurt but he was happy she was a kitten again. During his mourning I explained the little kid or kitten inside us all gets to come back out to play when we reach heaven, and that we are only sad because we miss our loved ones – not because something bad actually happened to them.
I had Akima cremated and was given her paw print in clay along with the poem, “Rainbow Bridge.” Upon receiving her remains, I decided to give the paw print and poem to Mr. Carter and tell him Akima sent it to him from heaven. If you haven’t read “Rainbow Bridge,” it’s a gut-wrenching explanation of the meadow where animals go in heaven when they die, and that they’ll perk up and run to you when they see it’s your turn to enter heaven. Mr. Carter was excited Akima wrote him but was not satisfied with the poem.
“You mean when I go to heaven I stay forever?” he asked. When I confirmed that he continued, “I don’t want to stay in heaven forever. And I don’t want her to either.”
We proceeded to respond to Akima, asking her to come back. He added to the letter that she needed to look like she did when she was a kitten so he would recognize her. I have such a picture on my phone for when this search begins.
We all handle things in our own way, and for my son, his first death was very hard to take. It’s never easy no matter how many deaths you go through, but I hope Akima’s is the only return trip he expects to take place.