His eyes welled up. He looked at me with such sadness and despair. He has squashed bugs & seen dried up dead worms before, even an old dried up dead mouse left over from the winter months. Why just last evening he smooshed a spider with his own index finger and said "I smooshed the spider, Mommy" and went on playing like it was nothing.
But this was different. This was something he could recognize, he saw with his own two eyes and could conceptualize. It was not old and dried up. It was a little mouse, no longer alive but still oddly like he was alive, just not moving.
Who did it? Likely the dogs who have been hunting whatever lives in our yard with such intensity that I have seen drool fall from Lucy's jowls as she stood staring intently at one spot in the corner of the yard.
He ran in the house as I was making dinner. "Mommy, Daddy said he said we... quick! we need a bag. A plastic bag, quick. A mouse, he is not alive and Daddy needs a bag." The color in his cheeks was high. He had a little trowel because he was helping Daddy garden. He looks slightly scared and little unsure what the uproar was about but he knew something was wrong.
I grabbed two plastic Kroger bags and came with him. I told him that it was all right, gently rubbing his back. I said "take a deep breath". Kevin came up with the little black mouse. Indeed it was dead. We carefully placed the mouse in the bag and then a second bag. Matthew watched with round eyes. Looking at us with deep concern.
He said "Mommy, what happened? Why the mouse dead?" I looked at Kevin then back to Matthew.
Kevin said "we do not know what happened. The mouse just died."
Matthew sank down to his knees. His eyes still round, still staring at the bags. I slide down next to him. Pulled him to me, onto my lap hoping I could take away that sting, that moment of complete understanding. Matthew looked hard at the bags I had pushed off to the side.
Santana came sniffing along to see what was wrong. "Mommy... will Santana die?" "Yes. One day he will."
"Mommy, will... will I die?" His eyes welled up. "Will you die and daddy?"
"Yes darling one day we all will die. We will go up to heaven and see God." He buried his head in my shoulder. Very quiet.
Kevin said "But you know Matthew heaven is a good place for the mouse. Heaven has lots of cheese and other little mice to play with..." Matthew looked up. Still a little sad but seeming to feel better.
At three, it was the moment. A moment of understanding. It was like a door opening onto his soul through which I could see clearly into his eyes that he understood death, understood that going away and never coming back is inevitable for all of us. Then he moved on.
No mention of it since that day even when he asked me about the dead dried up worm last evening. "Mommy look at the dead dried up worm." I braced myself half expecting more questions but he just wanted to share the piece of information, an observation, like a little scientist. That was it.
I am left still trying to swallow the lump that formed at that moment when he looked at me with tear swollen eyes because one day he will know and actually care a lot more then he does today. And it is such a sad and difficult life lesson to learn. I guess better that we are the ones to teach him about death then someone else but still...