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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

October 14, 2007

I'll Miss You

“I know when I’ll miss you,” Frank told me the other day.

“When?” I said.

“When you die,” he said. “Because you’re probably going to die before me.”

Fair enough, I thought. The way things are supposed to work, parents should die before kids.

Then he went on:

“I know when I won’t miss you,” he said. “When I die, too. Then we’ll be both in heaven.”

“I hope so,” I said.

“We will,” he said. “Everybody goes to heaven when they die.”

Well, not exactly.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they “see him as he is, face to face.” (1023)

On the other hand, it also says, “Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. (613) To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell.’” (1033)

But that’s a bit much for a 6-year-old, even one who has been asking questions about death and about God and sometimes about death and God.

So to make it a little easier to understand, I told him that people who love God go to heaven, where they are with God forever. People who don’t love God and don’t want to be with God are not with him forever, and that is called hell.

“Do you know anyone who went to hell?” he asked.

Well, I don’t know. You can’t know what happened to anyone after they died, because you can’t see them like God does. But I hope not, I told him.

He thought about it for a minute and said, “I love God.”

Good, I said. Remember that, and remember what God wants you to do, and you won’t have anything to worry about.

That’s true: at 6, he’s still an innocent. The rest of us might have more to think about. He’s just getting to the point where he can know something is wrong—really wrong, not just something Mom doesn’t want him to do—and still choose to do it, and I can’t say he crosses that line or compromises his better judgment often, if at all. Life from now on will only become more complicated, more difficult to manage, and maybe it’s best that he will have the opportunity for reconciliation next year, when most sins are relatively simple.

We adults have a harder time avoiding sin, I think, not so much because our world is more complicated and we have so many more things to take into account, although we do. It’s more that we think about all those other things, and forget what God wants us to do.

Later that day, we went to Red Lobster, and Frank was contemplating the lobsters on display that were destined to become someone’s dinner. “Lobsters can’t go to heaven, can they?” he asked.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“But I can and you can,” he said.

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].