Why did your mom die?

Dear Munchkin and Peanut,

Yesterday as we were getting in the car, Munchkin asked, “Did your mom die?” This is one of the questions she knows the answer to, but still likes to ask now and then for confirmation. “Yes, Munchkin, my mom died.”

Talking about this isn’t necessarily painful for me now. Enough time has passed that I can typically discuss it factually. But the next question threw me: “Why did your mom die?”

At first, I just evaded the question by shutting the car door, as if I hadn’t heard her, and turning to lock the house. How could I explain that very late one rainy night, my mother’s car slowly drove over a median, across the lanes for oncoming traffic, then off the road and down into a rainwater runoff reservoir? The event was witnessed by the driver of the single car exiting the highway as my mom’s car crossed in front of her. The official cause of death was drowning.

The word “suicide” was tossed around, but there was no note, and suicidal individuals generally choose a significantly faster and less painful method. It was ruled an accidental death, but the underlying cause was still a mystery. The key word in the witness’s account was “slowly.” It didn’t make sense to anyone.

My personal hypothesis is that her blood pressure suddenly plummeted, causing her to pass out. That had happened a couple months earlier; although she was thoroughly evaluated, the doctors had no explanation, and therefore no treatment. Perhaps, on the night of her death, she had already accelerated enough before losing consciousness that the car’s own inertia continued to propel it into the reservoir. But that’s just a theory.

Slowly, I walked around to the driver’s side door. I needed to gather my thoughts.

“Why did your mom die?” the question came again, as soon as I got in.

“Well, Munchkin, she had an accident,” I began, then realized you might associate that with our frequent use of “accident” in daily life to describe a plethora of minor incidents. I quickly revised the statement. “She was in a car accident.” But we were in the car! What if you started worrying about your own safety whenever we drive somewhere?

“Munchkin, you know how Mommy and Daddy always have to be careful when we’re driving? Remember that we have to pay close attention to all the other cars and everything around us, so we don’t bump into anything?” We have had frequent conversations about such matters.

“Uh huh,” you nodded.

“Well, my mom wasn’t paying enough attention when she was driving. She had a car accident and she died. But Mommy and Daddy are always very careful, and we pay close attention, so you don’t have to worry about bumping into anything when Mommy or Daddy is driving. You’re safe with Mommy and Daddy.”

“I never met your mom.” Phew! Potential for terror-stricken preschooler thwarting every future car ride seemingly avoided. “That’s true, Munchkin, she died a long time ago.”

“Did she die while I was still in your tummy?”

“No, sweetie, she died a long time before you were in my tummy.”

“But I’ve never seen your mom. Is she going to come back to life?”

“Well, she’s living in heaven with Jesus now, and we’ll get to see her when it’s our turn to go to heaven, too. We won’t see her at all while we’re living on earth. But we could look at pictures if you want to see what she looked like. Would you like to look at pictures of my mom?”

“Maybe later.” And we were on to the next topic of conversation.

Kiddos, this is just one of many tough questions you will spring on your parents during your formative years. It appears I got through this one without causing any psychological damage for you or me.

Thank God for giving me the right words when I needed them! Daddy and I always try to tell you the truth in a way that you can understand, and we pray for wisdom every day.

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