Saturday, February 28, 2009

A powerful witness

It's late and I'm exhausted, but I just need to say a few things about the general experience of being in Denver the past two days for the Living the Catholic Faith Conference. It was hour upon hour of inspiration. About 3,000 people attended the conference over two days -- old people, teen-agers, entire families with lots of kids in tow, moms and dads with infants cooing and smiling and, occasionally, crying. Today half of the participants were Spanish-speaking. I hadn't realized that 51 percent of the Catholic population in the Archdiocese of Denver is Hispanic. That's quite a figure, and one that should remind us of what our future Church will look like and how we might want to respond.

The Denver Convention Center was like a modern-day revival tent. There were so many people at Mass this morning that they ran out of Holy Communion. The lines for confession were several people deep and snaked through the hall and around the corner for the entire 90-minute lunch break. In fact, the second keynote address of the day ran a few minutes behind because there were still confessions to be heard in that conference room. Good problems to have, I think. We're constantly hearing about Catholics not going to Mass regularly and Catholics not going to confession at all, but this was a reminder that not all Catholics can be lumped into that disinterested group. There are many, many Catholics out there who are hungry for the faith and for the opportunity to receive the sacraments.

I was overwhelmed by the response of the people who attended my two workshops at the conference. Their kindness, their questions, their appreciation was beyond anything I had ever expected. I know I was there to pass something along to them, but they gave just as much back to me, probably much more. As I was leaving the convention center, a group of women called out to me to thank me one more time. I felt as though we were old friends, and, in a sense, we are because we are eternally connected by this faith of ours and our desire to share it.

I wrapped up my Denver trip with a great dinner at D'Corazon, a Mexican restaurant just a quick bus ride from my hotel. Best Mexican food I've had since leaving Texas eight years ago. I got a "knockout" margarita, chips and salsa, and huge platter or enchiladas verde and rice and beans for a whopping $12. I spent some time in the 16th Street Mall neighborhood before returning back to my hotel. The only negative of my trip is happening right now. The 20-somethings in the room next to me have decided to turn their no-smoking room into a smoking room and the smell is so bad my throat and eyes are hurting. So now at this late hour, I have to decide whether to ask to move my room. Not something I want to do. Other than that, Denver has been a real treat.

What was I thinking?

When I was wandering through the exhibitors' tables at the Living the Catholic Faith Conference at the Denver Convention Center yesterday, I picked up a book called "Journey to the Heart: Centering Prayer for Children," which just goes to show you how out of touch with reality I really am. I can't get my children to sit quietly through grace before dinner. Why would I think I could get them to sit silently for six minutes (as the book recommends) thinking of nothing at all except maybe their "secret-sacred word"? I think I was just inspired by the moment. There I was with 1,500 Catholics, praying together, sharing stories, learning from one another. It was one of those days that just reminded me how great it is to be Catholic. I know that sounds weird, but it's true. I always find it incredibly powerful when I'm transplanted to another city and yet feel completely at home because the Mass, the songs, the prayers are the same because we are united, universal, catholic.

While I was at the conference, I attended an amazing workshop on helping families live their faith in a secular culture by Jonathan Reyes, founding president of the Augustine Institute in Denver and soon-to-be director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Denver. His talk was everything a good talk should be: funny, inspirational, informational, personal, spiritual. He offered suggestions while using his own experience of raising six children to remind us Catholic parents that there are things we should be doing to foster virtue in our children, our families, and to keep them on the right path in a world that is constantly offering a wide selection of wrong paths.

He suggested families create a "rule," in imitation of the way the Benedictines follow the Rule of St. Benedict, for example. Sit down with the kids and come up with a rule of life, and then, for the hardest part, stick to that rule, he said.

Reyes also emphasized the importance of daily family prayer, making time for leisure, serving others together as a family, creating a sacred space in the home, tithing, getting to daily Mass whenever possible, making catechesis part of the family conversation, building in some discipline -- like abstaining from meat every Friday, not just in Lent, and my personal challenge: being joyful in service to your family. How many times a day do the little things that are just part of being a parent make you crazy? I've lost count. And yet, as Mother Teresa often said and as Reyes reminded us, it is in those little things that we can move closer to God, if we do them with joy instead of frustration.

So...when I saw that centering prayer book, I thought, "Aha! This is something I could do to help my children get closer to God." I don't know if that will happen, but we have to always be hopeful, right? Now that I look at this little book, I'm thinking that maybe it's just the thing to help me make some quiet time for God. Far less intimidating than the grown-up books on centering prayer I've been struggling with.

On a related note, I would just like to welcome any of the folks who attended my workshop and asked for my blog address. Thank you for your kind words, your encouragement and your interest in reaching adult Catholics.

And finally, I have to offer prayers for my Cornerstone Retreat sisters. Had I not been in Denver this weekend, I would be on the retreat team leading another group of women through the amazing experience of Cornerstone right now.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Greetings from Denver

It's been a long but wonderful day at the "Living the Catholic Faith Conference" in Denver. I'll be sharing details of this adventure some time soon, but for now you can check out my brief post on the first day of the jam-packed conference at OSV Daily Take by clicking HERE.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

God and the recession

This is a great clip from the Colbert Report, featuring one of my favorites, Father James Martin, S.J., talking about faith and the economy. Take a few minutes to enjoy it and think of me sitting in the airport (which is where I am right now), waiting for my flight to Denver via Cleveland.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

Ash Wednesday did not get off the best start this morning. For whatever reason, the bus never picked up Noah and Olivia for school, so I had to dash out to get them there in time and still get home and get ready for the school Mass less than 30 minutes later. Of course there was school bus traffic at that hour, and what should have taken a total of 10 minutes took much longer. I returned home with just enough time to finish getting ready and jump right back in the car. I was frazzled and frustrated and grumbling something along the lines of "great way to begin Lent."

I'm easily frustrated, very impatient, and as I moaned and groaned this morning it occurred to me that the morning's annoyances were really not that big of a deal. And yet I was willing to allow it to "ruin" my Ash Wednesday and cast a shadow over the Lenten season before it even had a chance to begin. How ridiculous is that? Thankfully, I realized in that moment that I needed to refocus my attention on the spiritual significance of the day and not worry so much about the minor details. That, for me, would be the greatest challenge this Lent -- to let go of the whining and complaining about the "small stuff," to remember how blessed I am even when the bus goes missing or the computer printer is holding one of my jobs hostage inside or the dinner is burning. That's much bigger sacrifice for me than giving up sweets and snacking in between meals, which is my usual thing.

At Mass, as I approached the front of church for my ashes, I was hoping, as I always do, that I would receive mine with the traditional line: "Remember, man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return." I just love that reminder. But instead, as my pastor marked my forehead and said, "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel," I knew that that was precisely what I needed to hear this morning. My mortality is not really an issue for me, not something I fear or struggle with. Sin, however, is another story. And so, as I walked back to my seat and pondered those words, I wrestled with the idea that in addition to my usual Lenten sacrifices, I really do need to make a concerted effort to give up some of my mega-frustration with things that aren't worth the angst and effort. I don't have any illusions that I can shed myself of that bad habit even in 40 days, but being aware of it in the first place in a good starting point, I think.

I hope your Ash Wednesday is off to a good start, even if you hit traffic on your commute or the alarm didn't go off or you spilled something on your shirt at breakfast. Because this day, this season, isn't about everything going according to plan. It is about surrendering to God's plan and giving up our desire to be in control.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Are you ready for Lent?

Ash Wednesday is just hours away. I feel like a kid at Christmas. I know, kind of weird. It's just who I am, or how I am. I love Lent. Not in some masochistic way, as so many people think, but in a deep, reflective way. There is something so beautiful about spending this time contemplating darkness, sorrow, suffering, and knowing that it ends in light, resurrection, salvation.

That being said, I rarely live up to my Lenten goals and self-imposed challenges. Often I'm floundering around even before the first Sunday of Lent. But every year I give it another try, and maybe without even realizing it, I'm making some kind of progress.

So what am I hoping to do this Lent to make it special? I haven't nailed it all down yet. I know, I know. Time is running out. I want to get it right and for the right reasons. Noah, who is 12, is giving up meat for Lent. That's a pretty big deal for a boy who loves hamburgers and chicken nuggets and meat of every kind. He's a consummate carnivore. But, as he said when I asked about his decision, "It's supposed to be a real sacrifice, right?" Humbling. I'm trying to think of something that would be my equivalent (since I've already given up meat). I am so impressed with Noah's willingness to pick one of the most difficult choices when he could have taken a much easier way out.

Of course, Lent isn't just about giving something up. It's about doing something extra, making spiritual progress of some sort. I'm thinking of trying to pray with the kids during Lent -- more than our nightly grace before dinner, which usually ends up rushed or peppered with laughter or yelling or clanking forks or all of the above. Nightly prayer, other than what we do at Chiara's bedside each night and what the bigger kids do on their own, might be a challenge, but I think it would be worth a shot. We'll see.

And then there is our Rice Bowl and the accompanying literature, which always offers meatless dinner suggestions from Third World countries. I've tried that in the past, but it's never gone over too well. I think I'll bypass that for my own Third World-style entrees. Still the stories and the reminders of the abject poverty that so many people live in day after day is a powerful part of the Catholic Relief Services campaign. Now, if we can just remember to regularly put money into the little box so we're not just writing a check come Holy Week.

I'll be back tomorrow to continue our Lenten discussion. For now, here's a link to my Life Lines column from last Lent. Click HERE to read "Lowering My Lenten Expectations."

Friday, February 20, 2009

One more study we didn't need

Here's a news flash for anyone who's been living under a rock since, oh, the 1950s: Men view women in bikinis as sexual objects. Believe it or not, CNN has a story on its website today about a Princeton University study that has uncovered the shocking fact that, when shown provocative photos of scantily clad women, men "view sex as a highly desirable goal." Astonished researchers breathlessly expounded on the findings, touting such important new discoveries as this one: Men remember the bodies of women wearing bikinis better than they remember the bodies of fully clothed women. You can't make this stuff up. I'm just wondering who commissioned the study. Perhaps a frat house at the Ivy League school?

Shockingly enough, the findings of this ground-breaking study were "consistent with previous work in the field," which one can only imagine took place at a Mexican resort during spring break. One psychiatrist interviewed about the study went out on a limb by stating: "Many men make foolish choices because of sexual attraction." Considering the stupidity of that statement, I'll cut him a break and assume he had a copy of the Sport Illustrated swimsuit issue in front of him when he said it.

If you want to read the full story, which really sounds like something straight from The Onion, click here. If you do and you are a woman, please be forewarned that you may respond by rolling your eyes, sighing heavily, throwing something at the next man you see, or changing the locks on your front door, although I'm not completely sure about that. Maybe I'll do a study.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Maybe we aren't 'normal' after all

Last night, over dinner, Dennis and I were telling our pastor how frustrating it is that so many people assume certain things about us because we both work for the Church. They seem to think we listen to nothing but Gregorian chant, we complained. They imagine that we can't possibly have a good sense of humor because we must spend all our time in prayer or religious reading or something along those lines, we whined. And it is true. People do often make assumptions about who we are and what we like based on what they imagine our professions require or inspire.

No sooner were the words out of our mouths, when Chiara walked into the room holding not one but two Infant of Prague statues brought directly from Prague by her godfather, who is a priest. When I yelled across the room, "Put down the Infant of Prague," the ridiculousness of the situation hit and suddenly Dennis and I were laughing because I guess in some ways we are kind of churchy (me definitely more so than him). In rapid fire succession, Chiara brought in a Kateri Tekakwitha bracelet that I brought back from the Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville this fall and a small icon of St. Clare (her namesake) straight from the Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi (She has a first-class relic of St. Clare in her bedroom), and a plastic wine glass that she happened to be using as a chalice earlier that afternoon. I swear it was the first time she has ever pretended to play Mass. (There must be something in the Code of Canon Law regarding girls taking on the role of priest in their pretend play.)

Dennis and I sat at the table with our mouths hanging open as Chiara paraded through with one religious item after another, giving considerable heft to the misguided notion that Church people spend too much free time on Church things. Good thing we really do have a sense of humor. Even so I think I'll put the religious items under lock and key before the next dinner party.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Preschool perspective on death

Chiara, 3, is very focused on death, God and old age these days. Just the other morning, what started as a lovely little talk about God creating the world, quickly morphed into a serious discussion about the afterlife.

She began simply enough: Did God make the trees? Did God make the sky? When I said yes to that last one, she laughed and said, "No, it would be too high for him to reach." From there she moved onto God's address: Where does he live? Does he have toys at his house? Does he have a place to cook? Does he have a name? Does he fly? Can he walk? Was making the world a game for God? Does he make the leaves come down? Did he make this placemat? Does he go to sleep?

All of those questions inevitably led to talk of heaven...

Chiara: What does heaven mean?

Me: Heaven is where we will go after we die, hopefully when we're very old. In heaven we'll see God.

Chiara: E-ma is very old. E-ma is never going to die. (This is something Chiara brings up with alarming frequency.)

Me: No, E-ma will die one day, and we will be sad.

Chiara: And she will find God?

Me: Or God will find her.

Chiara: Who else is going to die except for E-ma?

Me: We're all going to die. Every living thing has to die. But hopefully that will not come until we are very old.

Chiara: So everyone except for us is going to die?

Me: Ah, no. We'll die too some day, hopefully a long time from now. Hopefully not until we get old like E-ma.

Chiara: And we will see God. But our house will still be here, right?

Me: Right.

Chiara: (Climbing into my lap) I don't want to die. It's not coming yet, right?

Chiara reminds me of her big brother when she gets like this. I always thought Noah focused on death because I happened to be writing a book about children and grief back when he was a preschooler. He was my guinea pig. I was always trying to talk to him about the circle of life and death. But it turns out that some kids are just more curious or worried about this topic. Through the rest of the day, Chiara kept coming back to our conversation, asking if I was old or if she was old, trying to get some sort of guarantee that, as she put it, "it's not coming yet." If only we could make such guarantees. I have to admit that I lingered a little longer than usual when I tucked her in that night, wishing I could give her the answer she's looking for.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A transforming idea

I was reading before bed last night, and whenever I do that, I don't get very far. I read a sentence and then read it again because my brain is quickly switching into sleep mode. But last night, as I lay there reading Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel by Thomas Keating, which I've been reading for quite some time now, I read a sentence that stuck with me despite my sleepy stupor:

"Transformation is completely God's work. We can't do anything to make it happen. We can only prevent it from happening."

When I read that, my addled mind said, Wait a minute. What was that? I went back, read it again, and continued. But before I closed the book for the night, I returned to those lines and read them one more time, hoping that I might drift off to sleep with that powerful thought in my head instead of all the anxious worrying that's usually running around my brain.

This quote, this entire book, is about centering prayer, and Father Keating, a Cistercian, is the founder of the Centering Prayer Movement. I love the idea of centering prayer, much like I like the idea of contemplation (centering prayer should lead to contemplative prayer), but I tend to read about it more than I actually do it. When I came upon the quote about transformation, it really made me want to try my hand again at this method of prayer, this waiting in silence for God to make a move instead of rushing toward Him jabbering about things I need and things I don't want and prayers that should be answered.

Father Keating uses the Gospel story of the Canaanite woman (Mt 15:26) as an example of how God transforms in mysterious ways. The woman comes to Jesus for healing and, as Father Keating says, gets the "cold shoulder" from the Master. He tells her, in not so many words, why should I waste my healing on you when my children need healing. But she does not get angry or indignant at this turn of events. She grovels in the dust and says, "You are absolutely right, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs as they fall from their master's table."

Good answer. Apparently, Father Keating explains, Jesus was raising her to the "highest level of faith." In other words, sometimes to get to the glory, we have to fight our way -- or more accurately, surrender our way -- through what feels like rejection or even abandonment.

"Some people complain God never answers their prayers," Father Keating writes. "Why should He? By not answering our prayers, He is answering our greatest prayer, which is to be transformed."

OK, I have to admit that that last quote may have been a little bit too much for me at the sleepy hour of almost midnight, but I came back to it again in the morning with a cup of coffee and a slightly clearer head. On one level, I find it confusing and daunting. On another level, I find it logical and comforting. Weird. For me right now, this idea of transformation through what seems like rejection really is the answer to my prayer because lately my prayer has been "Where are You?" And this reminds me that He is there and that the obstacles in my life are meant to teach me something. If I continue down the path anyway, allowing the adversity in without fear or anger, I will come out the other side and realize I am a lot closer to where I eventually want to be. But, if I fight it and yell at God or even walk away from God, the opportunity for transformation will be lost and I will have to wait for His next challenge.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Like the Newlywed Game, but Catholic

Last week Dennis and I received an intriguing proposition from Brian Caulfield, editor of Fathers For Good, an initiative for men sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. He invited us to be the "Valentine couple" and offered to feature us on the FFG website, but there was a hitch: We had to answer a series of email questions about our marriage without discussing it beforehand or looking at each other's answers after the fact. Blind trust was required here. We could come off smelling like roses, or we could end up looking very silly. We like a good challenge, so we said yes. I am happy to report that the outcome couldn't have been better. In fact, if I hadn't been there to witness it, I would have thought we cheated, but we did not.

Reading Dennis' answers and realizing how much we are still in sync -- or are even more in sync -- after all these years took me back to our first Valentine's Day, when we bought each other the exact same card. Back then we spent the day at the Cloisters at the northern tip of Manhattan and finished with dinner at Dominic's on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. That may have been a perfect Valentine's date, but the results of our separate interviews is the perfect Valentine's gift any wife could ask for. Click HERE to read our interviews. Talk about synchronicity.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A trip to the mall goes awry

Today over at OSV Daily Take, I'm sharing a true story that you just won't believe. Here's a snippet:

A friend of mine was checking out the iPhone with his 13-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter at the Apple store at a local mall recently when he looked up to find hard-core pornography playing from a nearby widescreen computer monitor for all to see -- adults and children, including his own. And when I say "hard-core," I mean really, really hard-core. He turned to put his body between his own kids and the screen and managed to turn it toward a wall as quickly as possible before heading over to talk to a manager. Meanwhile, over near the offending computer, a group of teens snickered...Continue reading.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Hitting life's pause button

Events this past week have really given me pause, which is something I don't do often enough. Usually I'm flying from one thing to the next, rarely taking time to savor things or reflect. And when you do that, you run the risk of forgetting how blessed you are. This week, however, a writing colleague's loss and her subsequent posts about the raw grief she is experiencing really made me stop and take a hard look at what's around me. You know what I found? Blessings, joy, love, and, yes, some little annoyances, but that's the beauty part. The annoyances are really insignificant when you take in the sweeping big picture. I am very lucky, something I don't tend to dwell on.

You may recall that last week I asked you to pray for Catholic author and blogger Amy Welborn Dubruiel and her family because her husband, Michael Dubruiel, an author and blogger in his own right, died unexpectedly. Although Amy and I have never met in person, we have spoken by phone a number of times for stories and such. I feel a kinship with Amy, not just because we are Catholic writers, but because we are moms closing in on 50 with a preschooler still at home. Because we are wives with husbands "in the business," so our marriages have incorporated not only our personal relationships with our spouses but professional partnerships that are grounded in and driven by our faith lives.

When Amy posted notes on Facebook this week, I could easily imagine myself in her place, and I didn't like what a I saw. Not just because I was trying to imagine her grief and the sorrow of helping her young children come to grips with their own grief, but because I was thinking of all the times -- many times per day, I would say -- that I let those little annoyances I spoke of get in the way of truly and completely loving the people I live with. I think we all experience those moments when we realize we don't say certain things often enough, don't do certain things often enough, but an event like this really brings it crashing home. What would I wish I had done if I knew that Dennis or I might head to the YMCA tomorrow morning and never come home? It's a sobering thought.

Amy wrote about planning Michael's funeral Mass and choosing the music. She mentioned that she wanted the Litany of the Saints to be played as the entrance hymn, and I thought: How beautiful. I told Dennis to file that in his memory bank for the day when my turn comes. Today, at 11 a.m., when Michael's funeral Mass is scheduled to begin, I will play the Litany of the Saints, which I happen to have in iTunes because Dennis downloaded it when I was in the midst of a church-music buying frenzy. In the haunting echo of that litany, I will try to unite myself with Amy.

That is the beauty of this faith of ours. We may be hundreds of miles apart, worlds apart. We may hardly know each other or not know each other at all. But our faith in Jesus Christ allows us to lift each other up in our suffering, to try to take on a piece of that suffering. We may not be able to be physically present to assist Amy on her journey, by we can be spiritually present, not only by offering prayers but by allowing the suffering to touch our own lives and transform the way we live.

None of us will be spared the cross. It will find its way to us in one form or another. We fall back on our faith and on the prayers and spiritual strength of those around us. We cannot walk this journey alone. We were not meant to walk this journey alone. And so we continue on our path, hoping and praying that a kind soul will come along and offer to help shoulder our burden.

Blog radio interview

I had the opportunity to be on Catholic Radio 2.0! last Saturday with host Commander (Brian) Craig. If you missed it, never fear. You can download the show and listen at your leisure. Click HERE and scroll down until you see the Featured Episode: "The Complete Idiots Guide to The Catholic Catechism."

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Who's at the controls?

Here's my February Life Lines column. Enjoy.

Every once in a while, something happens to shake a person to his or her core. Maybe it’s the death of a loved one or a the loss of a job or even something that appears minor to those on the outside but feels catastrophic to the person in the midst of it. I’ve been stuck in the middle of one of those seemingly “minor” moments for a few weeks now, and the fallout has, in fact, shaken me to my core. Continue reading...

Friday, February 6, 2009

The view from death row

I wanted to post this a couple of days ago, but things happen and courses shift and so I had to put it off. I did not, however, want to miss posting it at all because it's just too good. I was tooling around the blogosphere recently and happened upon a reflection at Conversion Diary that was so profound and so moving that I had to go back and read it again. Click HERE to read about one Catholic mom's realization that she and a former death row inmate shared a common bond. So worth your time. Check it out.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The quest for perfection

Today, over at OSV Daily Take, I'm blogging about our society's obsession with perfection. Here's a snippet:

I was thumbing through a special "bridal" section of my local paper today when I was struck by the number of ads for plastic surgery mixed in with the ads for gown shops and limo services. I couldn't help but feel sad over it. Is this what we've come to? A young woman preparing for marriage now not only has to pick out dresses and invitations but also various surgical procedures to bring herself up to speed for the big day?...continue reading.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The story of a miracle

Although I've never had the opportunity to travel to the Marian Shrine at Lourdes, it has a special place in my heart. The story of St. Bernadette Soubirous, whose visions of the Blessed Mother in 1858 and the subsequent healing waters that she uncovered draw some 5 million pilgrims each year, was my favorite of the saints' stories I read before bed each night when I was young. So much so that no other name but Bernadette would do when it came time for my Confirmation.

So I think sharing any Lourdes story is worth the time, but the one I want to share with you now is especially poignant. Posted on Fathers For Good, it is written by Brian Caulfield, whom I have known since my days as managing editor at Catholic New York in the early '90s. He and his wife his took their son to Lourdes and experienced one of the miracles so many of the pilgrims hope and pray for. Read his moving account by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Praying for a Catholic friend and writer

Michael Dubruiel, husband of well-known Catholic author and blogger Amy Welborn, died unexpectedly this morning. It's shocking news and so sad for Amy and her children. Amy posted a brief link about Michael's death HERE. Please pray for Amy and her family during this difficult time.

I don't know if it's true, but it sure is funny

Please head on over to Sardonic Catholic Dad for a hysterically funny blog post, not to mention some really great music. (I'm listening to "Rockaway Beach" from his playlist as I write this.) Click HERE to check out a post that seems too funny to be true.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Chiara gets philosophical

I was kneeling by Chiara's bed the other night to say her prayers, when the conversation took a new turn. Here's how it went:

Chiara (who is 3): Why did Jesus have to die?

Mom: Well, he died for all of us, to save us. (Quizzical look from Chiara.) But he rose from the dead and made everything good for all of us.

Chiara: What good things did he do for us?

Mom: Well, now we can go to heaven one day, like Grandma Irene.

Chiara: I'm never going to heaven.

Mom: One day, hopefully when you're very, very old, you will go to heaven.

Chiara: E-ma's too old.

Mom: Yes, she is. We're very lucky that E-ma is as old as she is. (She's 96.)

Chiara: E-ma is never going to die.

Mom: Well, yes, she is. Hopefully not any time soon, but one day, and we will all be very sad, but E-ma has had a long life, longer than most people could ever hope for.

Chiara: But you're not too old, and Daddy and Noah and Olivia aren't too old, right?

At that point, she pretty much tired of this topic and moved on, but it didn't fade from my memory that quickly. Back when I was out talking about my first book, Parenting a Grieving Child: Helping Children Find Faith, Hope and Healing After the Loss of a Loved One, I would try to emphasize that no matter how young the child, death does not escape them. In their own ways, on their own levels, they try to process it. They turn it over in their little heads, trying to figure out what we mean when we say heaven, what we mean when we talk about Jesus dying, what we mean when we say prayers that raise more questions than they answer for little preschoolers (and maybe for all of us).

I am huge proponent of being honest with children -- not in a scary way but in a way that gives them enough real information without overloading them with things that will just make them anxious. My little episode with Chiara just confirmed everything that I knew from my research and writing about children and grief. Be open to your children when they ask about death, and be willing to answer their questions when a family member or friend dies. If you don't, they'll be working it out on their own without you, and that's never a good thing.