Family Man®: Heaven Can Wait
If I died, which one of my friends would you date?"
When my wife asked me this at bedtime one night, I seized up like the engine of my old Datsun B-210 at mile 250,000.
"Almost all of them are married, so that wouldn't be possible," I said, ducking potential danger.
"OK, if I died and any one of my friends was available, which one would you date?" Wendy inquired relentlessly.
I stopped. I considered a couple of Wendy's companions who shall remain nameless because I know who reads these articles and I'm not entirely stupid. I ducked again:
"Why are you asking?"
"Ari wondered when I was going to die," she said, turning melancholy. "It was right after we watched Fly Away Home."
For the uninitiated, this 1996 film stars Jeff Daniels and Anna Paquin (and Dana Delaney, who is not one of my wife's friends but would definitely be on the list). In the movie, the characters have lost their wife/mother and fill their emptiness with a flock of wayward geese. Little Ari, 3, liked the birds, but he was particularly moved by the idea that the girl had no mommy.
For the next several days, Ari asked questions about Wendy's mortality. We tried to assure him that Mommy is still quite young, in good health and has no intention of leaving this world until Ari is very old. We discussed the recent death of one of our cats, explaining that all creatures die; however, people usually live longer than cats and most often have a chance to prepare their loved ones before departing.
We then talked to our older children to help comfort Ari. Jacob, 6, said he sometimes worries that Mommy will die, but he feels she won't let that happen. Benjamin, the wise old 10-year-old, shrugged off the question as a non-issue, though he gave Wendy a fierce hug, revealing his true feelings of what Mommy's permanence means to him.
All the bonding about Mommy helped Ari a little, though I noticed that his anxiety never once turned into a concern about my death. No matter how much I nurture our children, it's the loss of Mom that weighs most heavily on my kids' minds.
I have not researched this, but I would venture to guess that there are more films and TV shows that kill off the mother than there are productions in which Dad dies. For Full House, the lack of a mom was felt so keenly that the girls needed three father figures to fill the void. The film Enchanted runs on the premise that a young girl requires a fairy-tale princess to make up for the mother she had for only a few short years.
Enchanted brings up another side to the topic of dearly departed women. That movie shows how the dad (played by Patrick Dempsey) pines for the romance, companionship and co-parenting he had with his late wife. It illustrates that, for me, Ari is not the only one who frets over the possibility of losing Mommy. I remember the first time I really had to think about such an awful situation, when a young mom we knew was killed by a drunk driver. The injustice of it all was one thing; the hole in her husband's life was something that still haunts me.
As a solo parent, I'd likely suffer the same level of neurosis shown by Marlin in Little Nemo, but I could manage. Yet, I know that I would never be the same minus Wendy as my partner. I cannot imagine being able to bring up my boys without thinking of how much better and happier it would be with her.
"If I die, just make sure you marry someone who loves the kids," Wendy said, continuing our aforementioned conversation.
I laughed at the melodrama, before seeing the soberness of her eyes. I took her in my arms.
"Heaven will just have to wait until Ari and the rest of us have gotten enough of you."
Gregory Keer is a writer, teacher and father of three boys. You can read previous Family Man columns in the Family Man Archive.