Jesus & Spaceships, Graves & Death
In 1960 my grandfather, Don Schow Clark died in an airplane crash in Nevada on a business trip, leaving behind my grandmother Marion and their eight children. My dad was the oldest child at 16 years, the youngest Cindy was not yet one.
We went to visit grandpa's grave this weekend along with Provoan neighbors who came carrying bundles of flowers and heavy hearts for their own beloved dead. This was my children's first visit to a cemetery and it was hard to explain.
When people die, their spirits go to heaven, but their bodies are put in nice wooden boxes and are buried here.
Anson insisted he see Jesus.
"Where is Jesus? I WANT TO SEE HIM!"
When we stopped at Grandpa's grave (having had to call both my mother and brother Andrew to locate the gravestone) it occurred to me that I could probably tell my son the story behind grandpa. His cognitive development is astounding to me these days.
"Anson, Grandpa Clark died in a plane crash," I told him once we were back in the car, driving west towards the rural parts of town.
"I know," he said back.
"You know?" I replied surprised.
"Yes, his plane crashed and Jesus came down in a spaceship and picked him up."
I thought about the time when I was seven or eight, I was asked to give a spiritual thought for our family night. I stood up to give the lesson, about death and the comfort the gospel gives to us regarding that matter, and I told the story about Grandpa Clark's death. Only, in the middle of the story I looked over at my dad and for the first time I realized his dad had died. It was the most tragic idea I could possibly think of at that point in my life.
His dad died.
And I started to sob uncontrollably, which would've warranted mass teasing from my brothers (as per our household mode of operation) but no one laughed at me, so I kept crying. Then I walked over to my dad's lap, wrapped my arms around him and cried for him. I was so sorry for him my heart broke completely.
I remember my dad saying, "It's okay, I am okay."
But his voice was sad too.
And I looked over at my mom and she was crying.
The story of my grandpa, his death and the life of his family that followed has always been an anchor story in my life. For me it was the first story of my family--the origins of the Clark family started the day my grandpa died. It reset the beginning and everything that has followed--good or bad--was consequence. Isn't that what tragedy does? Gives you a before and after to hang your memories on?
I'm just realizing, as I write this about our Memorial Day weekend, that on the same day we tried to explain graves and death to Anson we had let him watch Ghostbusters 1 and 2 back-to-back.
Poor kid. I'm going to let him believe that Jesus spaceship story for as long as he wants.