My favorite time of day is after I drag myself out of bed, get Ellie ready for school, and hop in the car. I’m never super pleased when the alarm goes off and often wish I could press snooze for a few more hours. But the 10-minute drive between our house and school makes it so worth it.  

I’m not sure if it’s the newness of the day or just her fresh mind, but our morning car ride conversations seem to be a window into Ellie’s heart. She often starts our conversation.  Sometimes it’s about school or the weather and even weekend plans… but other times it moves to more serious thoughts. “Mom, is there really a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow? It just doesn’t make sense how there could be?” “Can we fall through clouds?” “Does the President get to do whatever he wants?” Sometimes I can answer her questions directly, other times her thoughts are further reaching. And many times, asking Google, still will not suffice.  But every morning we continue to ponder her questions. 

This morning’s conversation started immediately after pulling out of our driveway. In a smaller than normal voice, she said:

Ellie:  Mom, I miss Charlie.

It’s a statement Ellie makes often, mostly when she is tired or upset. But this time was different.  

Me: I miss Charlie too, Ellie. Sometimes I miss him so much, my sadness makes me angry. We will always miss Charlie. The more you love someone the deeper you miss them.” 

A few moments passed…

Ellie: Mommy, when will we go to Heaven?

Me: Well, most likely you will go to Heaven when you are very old. And Mommy and Daddy will already be there when you get there, with Charlie and all the other people we love.

Sometimes I worry saying too much will scare Ellie, but I have also learned, she is smarter than I give her credit for. So holding back just makes her ask more questions. 

Ellie in the back seat thought for a few moments. The morning sunshine shining brightly through the car windows. Then her voice began to crackle, adamant, yet sad…

Ellie: Mommy, but Charlie is just a little boy. Kids need their parents. Who is feeding Charlie?  Who is taking care of him? Who is helping him get dressed and his teeth brushed in the morning? He needs us, not Heaven.  

I took a slow, deep breath before responding to Ellie. The words she spoke were the same that I have cried and prayed many times. I have pleaded for understanding, clarity, and assurance that Charlie is safe… happy and well taken care of. How was I to respond, when I still often have the same worries and questions?

Me: Ellie, Mommy doesn’t have all the answers. And even the Bible doesn’t. And that can be really hard. But what we do know is that Heaven is a perfect place where you have everything you need and want. It’s hard for us as humans to understand what a wonderful place it is but we can try to imagine it. I try to imagine all the people in Heaven with Charlie, like your Great Papaw and Nana. I believe they are taking care of him. And God is right there too. 

At this point, we were nearly at school, and Ellie while ok with my responses was still not relenting in her questions. I peered back at her in my rearview mirror as she gazed out the window.  

Ellie: Mommy, how old is Charlie, he’s 8, right? And will he keep growing until we get to Heaven too?

ME: Yes, honey.  Charlie is 8.  Although it’s hard for me to imagine him being older than 5. I don’t know for sure how old Charlie will be when we meet him in Heaven.  But I do know that the Bible tells us that time is different in Heaven. Years and years on Earth are like minutes in Heaven. I imagine when we get to Heaven, Charlie is going to look at us like he just saw us yesterday, like no time has passed. He will probably say – “Hey Ellie! Come play!” and just give you a big hug. 

These conversations are difficult, not typical for our morning rides to school. But I am thankful for them just the same. I don’t have all the answers for Ellie. Just like the world doesn’t provide all the answers for us. I can recall how I felt shortly after Charlie died, wanting all the answers, craving them. My ministers at church didn’t have them for me and neither did my sister-in-law, all people whose knowledge of the Bible and strong faith, I admire and trust deeply.  But now I am so thankful for their honesty, their admittance that there are many questions the Bible leaves unanswered.  

I believe that is where our faith lies, grounded in truth but solidified by belief. I try to share that sentiment with Ellie, whenever we talk about Charlie. Although I fear I don’t always do the best job. But as she is learning, so am I.

Ellie had one final comment as opened the car door. 

Ellie: Mommy, I just wish Charlie could spend Christmas with us.

Me: I think he always spends Christmas with us Ellie. Even though we can’t see him, he is here in everything we do. He always will be. 

2020 has been a hard year for all of our families. We have been missing loved ones, traditions, and times together. But hug those closest to you and remember just because someone you love isn’t sitting at your dinner table, doesn’t mean you don’t carry them with you, in the most important place… your heart.