By Carol Ann Loehr
We all use our minds to try to understand why our children died. I am no different; when our son Keith died, I continued to ask that endless question—Why?
Throughout my pursuit for answers, my niece Juli and her son Cody helped me realize that maybe I was not looking at all possibilities—just maybe I would have to go beyond my own realm of understanding.
As Juli shared some of Cody’s spiritual experiences with me, I found it would take a child to help me break through the spiritual barriers that I, as an adult, had created.
Cody was only three years old when we had to deal with the first Christmas after Keith died. I knew I couldn't cope with this normally festive holiday, and I wanted nothing more than to retreat into my bedroom—alone with my grief. However, my daughters would be coming home for the holidays, and I had to make their Christmas filled with love—not tainted with my sadness. How would I accomplish that? I didn't have a clue, but my answer would come through Cody.
Cody knew I was very sad during the holidays, but he didn't understand why. His mother explained to him that I could not see Keith and I missed him. Cody said that maybe if he drew a picture of Keith, I could look at his drawing, and then I wouldn't be so sad.
Before Christmas Day arrived, I received an envelope from Cody. Inside was the picture that Cody drew of Keith in heaven. Cody depicted Keith wearing bright colors standing near a Christmas tree. Next to the Christmas tree, there was a stick figure of a large, black dog. When I saw Cody’s picture, I started to cry; the dog Cody drew had to be Mandy, our standard black poodle that died from a heart complication at only five years of age. Cody had never seen Mandy, so I knew he must have learned about Mandy from his mother. In my mind: Juli told Cody about Mandy, so Cody drew Keith and Mandy together in heaven. The picture meant a great deal to me because it was so simple, yet it conveyed Cody’s thoughts about Keith in heaven.
I called Juli to thank her for sending off Cody’s picture, and I also wanted to thank Cody and talk to him. When Juli answered the phone, she told me that as Cody drew the picture, he wanted to draw a dog in heaven with Keith. She said she had tried to make it clear to Cody that our family dog was still alive, so he couldn't be with Keith in heaven, but Cody steadfastly insisted that the dog was with Keith. I quietly listened to Juli's recount of Cody's drawing, not thinking—at that time—about what all of this meant.
As I reminded Juli about our family's black dog Mandy, Juli fell silent—and both of us simultaneously experienced one of the first connections between Cody and Keith. That connection was strengthened when Juli apologized to Cody for questioning his decision to include the black dog in his drawing because we actually did have a black dog at one time. Cody's response? "I told you so!"
Yet another connection occurred when Cody saw a photograph of Keith as a young man fishing. Cody, who was only a baby when he had last seen Keith, wanted to know who the man in the photograph was. His parents explained that it was a photo of Uncle Keith. Cody told his parents that the man in the picture couldn’t be Keith because Keith was a little boy, just like him—and he knew this because Keith was "a little boy" when he had come to visit him.
A short time later, when Cody was about to enter kindergarten, I sent him a picture of Keith's kindergarten class. Cody immediately knew which student was Keith, and not surprisingly, he pointed to the young boy with a number three on his shirt.
As his favorite sport, Cody chose ice hockey and wanted his room decorated with an ice hockey theme. When asked why, he told his parents it was just something he wanted to do. Continuing the connection: Keith loved to ice skate—and he was a talented ice hockey player as well. Of course, Cody now owns some of Keith’s ice hockey trophies! And when he is asked to write stories about a person he admires, Cody often writes stories about his Uncle Keith.
Throughout our lives we are taught to take a scientific view of the world around us. As we begin to think that we are “in control” of our lives, the unspeakable happens—our child dies, and we find we are not in control after all. Our only recourse is to search for meaning and understanding. By opening our minds to all opportunities and going "beyond thinking," we can begin to comprehend: What we actually see and experience is not all there is. Although we cannot explain Cody’s connection with Keith, we are truly grateful for the gift that Cody has given us. Our souls are filled with new perception and insight; we're prepared for true thinking—and going beyond.
©2007 Carol Ann Loehr