I am working on a book that weaves together posts from the blog I wrote throughout his illness, with observations on how we dealt with life after his death from both my perspective and that of my oldest son. This is something I wrote describing an actual conversation I had with my son around 6 months after Andrew died.

“Hey Mom, can I ask you something?” I had been looking all over the house for her and had finally tracked her down in the front yard.

“Sure, babe, what’s up?” Mom answered with her back to me as she bent over to fill the watering can from the spigot on the side of the house.

It was getting dark out and the cicadas were doing their chirping thing and I still needed to take my shower, but something had been bothering me for awhile and I had finally worked up the nerve to ask Mom about it. But turns out it was harder than I thought it would be.

“Well, here’s the thing,” I start and then trail off. “Well, what I mean is,” I stammer. Why is this so hard?

At this point, I have Mom’s full attention. She’s put down the watering can, her geraniums forgotten for the moment and she’s looking at me expectantly, a mixture of worry and curiosity on her face.

I look at the ground, kicking at the dirt with the toe of my soccer cleat, which I probably should have taken off in the garage when we got home from our game, but I forgot. Realizing this, I quickly stop digging with my shoe and look up, hoping to avoid bringing unwanted attention to my dirty cleats in the hopes Mom won’t notice my oversight.

But without having my shoes to focus on, I realize Mom’s starting to get impatient, wondering why I’m just standing in her flowerbeds and not saying anything.

“Ben, what is it? I still have a lot to do tonight,” Mom said. She’s returned her attention to her flowers, watering and quickly pulling off the dead buds as she moves down the row.

If I don’t act soon, I’m going to lose her. It’s Sunday evening and we’ve been gone all day – first to a birthday party, then Cooper’s baseball game and my soccer practice. I look down at my hands and start shifting my weight from one foot to another.

“I’m sorry. The thing is, I don’t really know how to ask this,” I stammer. Now Mom is getting really worried, no doubt her imagination is running wild with the possibilities of what could possibly have me so worked up. This isn’t how I imagined this going when I practiced it in my head all the way home this afternoon, really wanting to ask her then but not wanting to do it in front of Cooper.

So I finally just blurt it out. “What happens after you get to heaven?… I mean, is that it? …Do you live another life there and then die again? And if you just stay there forever, what’s the point of living, if you are just going to die?” It all comes out in a rush and not at all like I how I had planned it.

Mom just looked at me, her mouth slightly open and staring at me like I’d just grown two more heads.

“Seriously? I am just trying to water the flowers, get inside and cool off after 4 hours outside, and get you guys to bed at a decent hour. I really wasn’t planning on trying to answer the biggest question in the world – ‘what is the meaning of life?’ – to my 10 year old tonight.” Mom says this while looking directly at me, but I don’t think she really sees me. It’s like she’s looking at someone over my shoulder, asking, “Can you believe this kid?” I even turn around to make sure there isn’t someone standing behind me. There isn’t.

“I’m sorry, Mom, I shouldn’t have bothered you with this. Never mind. I’ll go take my shower now,” I say as I turn and run inside and away from Mom’s disbelieving stare.

Well, that definitely didn’t go how I’d planned. I’d managed to upset Mom and I still wasn’t any better off than I had been before I went outside. And the thing is, I really wanted an answer. I had been wondering a lot lately about where Dad actually was now that he wasn’t here with us. Mom always said he was “watching us” and whenever we did something good she said he had “seen it” and was proud of us. But how did she know that? And frankly, I found it a little creepy to think Dad was always watching me. It was like when I was little and believed Mom and Dad when they said Santa was watching me all of December. I used to envision him on his hands and knees, peeking through the window wells in our basement and watching me when I was teasing Cooper. Creepy, but highly effective in terms of controlling my behavior during the holidays.

I was thinking all of this as I brushed my teeth after my shower when I heard a knock and looked up to see mom leaning in the doorway, watching me with a small smile on her face. Seriously? What is with the creepy parent watching tonight?

“Can I come in?” she asked.

“Sure, I was just about to get into bed,” I said as I wiped my mouth on the hand towel and walked into my room and crawled under the covers. “Is Cooper asleep already?”

“Yep, he’s passed out cold in my bed. I found him asleep in there when I came inside from watering, with the overhead light blazing and a Garfield comic book open on his chest,” Mom answered.

“So, just a typical night for the Coop Man,” I grin at her.

“Appears so. It doesn’t look like I’m ever going to get my bed back,” Mom said, pretending to be irritated but I know she secretly liked the company. I had spent a few months in there right after Dad died, but sleeping with Cooper requires the ability to sleep through loud teeth grinding and full body armour to dodge the flying limbs that come at you all night long. Mom must be made of stronger stuff than me, I threw up the white flag in February and returned to my bed, alone, and it had never felt more spacious (and quiet).

“I’m sorry about the way I reacted earlier. I didn’t handle that correctly and I apologize,” Mom said as she sat down on the edge of my bed and took my hand in hers. “You had a serious question and it deserved a more respectful answer than I gave you. You just caught me off guard,” she said.

“It’s okay, Mom, you don’t have to explain. I understand. You’ve had a long day, I picked a bad time,” I responded, trying to make her feel better. I hate doing things that upset Mom. She has enough reasons to be upset without me adding to her problems.

“No, I want you to always come to me when you have questions or are worried about something, and I shouldn’t ever make you regret doing so. The truth is, though, that I just don’t have a good answer for you,” Mom admitted. “I don’t like not having all the answers. I’m Mom, it’s my job to have the answers, but sometimes I just don’t. And this is one of those times.”

“I have theories. I have ideas. I have hopes for how I imagine it is – after you die, I mean. But it truly is one of life’s mysteries because the only people who really know, well, they aren’t able to tell us, are they?” Mom asked as she leaned down and kissed my forehead.

“I wish he was here so I could ask him,” I said, as tears started rolling down my cheeks. “I wish he was here so I could ask him a lot of things.”

“Oh, Ben, you have no idea how much I wish that, too,” Mom said softly as she crawled into bed next to me, pulling me in close. “If he were here right now, what would you ask him?”

This was a game we played sometimes. I think Mom did it as much for herself as she did it for me. She likes to talk about Dad, but I think a lot of people don’t mention his name to her, for fear she’ll have some sort of breakdown. But she talks to Cooper and I about him all of the time.

“I would ask him what his favorite part of being my Dad was,” I say, surprising even myself with this admission. It was something I wondered about a lot, but I’d never admitted out loud.

“Oh, that’s an easy one,” Mom says, smiling at me and settling back into the pillow, warming to her topic. “His favorite part of being your dad was watching you do anything you loved to do.”

“Like play soccer?” I asked.

“Yes, definitely that,” she agreed, snuggling me close. “But other stuff, too. He liked watching you with your friends, seeing how you were nice to everyone in your class, even the kids that not everyone is nice to. I like that part of being your Mom, too,” she admitted.

“He liked playing video games with you, wrestling with you after dinner, teaching you how to twirl spaghetti on your spoon, and taking you to his office and showing you off to his colleagues,” she continued. “He did NOT like giving you baths when you were little. He liked making up fake obstacle courses in the backyard and timing you on how fast you could complete them and helping you put Lego sets together,” she continued. I love this game and I prop myself up on my elbow, getting really into it now. “What else?” I ask, selfishly wanting her to keep going.

“He did NOT like the WWE, but he liked watching you watch it. He did NOT like iCarly, but he did like introducing you to the Star Wars movies,” she said. “And to be fair, he sat through many episodes of both with you.”

“He just liked being with you,” Mom says, finally. “It didn’t matter what you were doing.” And the way she says it, I really believe her.

“I wish he was still here,” I say, suddenly all of the fun in the game evaporates and all I feel is sad.

“Oh me too, baby, me too,” Mom says softly into my hair as she pulls me back down so she can snuggle me close. “More than you can even imagine.”

“But we’re not doing so bad, are we?” she asks and her question catches me off guard. Mom is the one who is supposed to convince ME that everything is okay. Why is she asking me to tell HER that everything is okay? Even though it doesn’t always seem that way, I have to admit that we have more good days than bad and as much as I give Mom a hard time for running late or forgetting things, she really is doing the best she can in a bad situation.

“Of course we are, Mom,” I answer her as I give her the biggest hug I can, squeezing her as hard as I can. “I love you, Mom and we are doing just fine, just the three of us,” I say, even if I don’t completely mean it.

My mom seems reassured though, and seems eager to let the topic drop. It’s getting late and she still has lunches to pack and dishes to wash before she can go to bed. “Goodnight, peanut. Sleep tight,” she says as she gives me a final kiss on the forehead and climbs out of my twin bed, turning on my bedside lamp and turning off the overhead light. “I love you – everything will seem better in the morning.”

As I hear her walk down the stairs to the kitchen it occurs to me that three is an odd number. I don’t like odd numbers and I’ve never really liked the number 3. I like the number 4. When there were four of us in our family, life was a lot easier for Mom, because she had someone to help her. And it was more fun, because everyone wasn’t sad all of the time and let’s face it, Dad was a funny guy.

As I drift off to sleep, I find myself thinking I might have an answer to all of our problems, but I can’t seem to put my finger on it.

Something about the number 4 seems important though.

Julie Thomas lost her husband, Andrew Somora,  on October 28, 2011 after a 15-month battle with Stage IV colon cancer. Andrew was 37 years old and they had been married for 13 years and had two boys, ages 6 and 9 when he passed away. She is working on a book that weaves together posts from the blog she wrote throughout his illness, with observations on how they dealt with life after his death from both her perspective and that of their oldest son.


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