I guess pretty much everyone around the world knows that the the Polish President and his wife and many prominent politicians died last week in a plane crash. Well, not everybody knows. For example, Rosie, age 2, has no idea. When we tried to catch a glimpse of the funeral on TV on Sunday, Rosie screamed, “Nie this. Ja want bajka!” (bajka = cartoons)
Lizzie, age 4, on the other hand was interested. She asked what it was, who died, how they died, if they were in the boxes (caskets), what color they were (???) and what’ll happen to them in the boxes. I explained that it was the funeral of the President and his wife, that they died in a plane crash, that they were in those boxes, that they were “people” color and that the boxes will go into the ground and they will turn to dust.
Lizzie then asked: But what happens to them? What happens when you die?
Me: You are dead.
Liz: But then what?
Me: Nothing. You are dead and that’s it. (hoping to drop the subject)
Liz: Who’s that lady crying?
Me: It’s their daughter and that’s their granddaughter next to her.
Liz: They were her babcia and dziadek? (grandma and grandpa)
Liz: And they are never coming back?
Liz: Why is everybody so sad?
Me: ‘Cause they died and are never coming back. Wouldn’t you be sad if Dziadek died and never came back?
Liz: Like he went to the szopa? (Dziadek likes to spend time in the szopa) (szopa = shed)
Me: Not exactly.
Liz: Why’s everybody wearing black?
Me: You wear black to show that you are sad.
Liz: You can be sad in a pink top.
How can you argue with that?
You may be wondering why I didn’t tell Lizzie that they went to heaven. Well, it is for 2 reasons. The first reason is that I don’t believe in heaven. I am sad to say that at this moment in my life, I believe that when you go, that’s it. I have a teeny tiny slither of hope that there is more, but hopin’ ain’t the same as believin’. I really wish that I did believe. It would make my life nicer and easier. It really hurts me to think that I will not have knowledge of my grandkids lives and so on and so on. Also, what’s my moral base established on? Where’s my motivation not to lie, cheat and steal? I’m not afraid about not getting into heaven. I guess I’m just a nice person…or it’s all that internalized Catholic guilt .
The second reason that I did not tell her about heaven is that Lizzie is mega-logical, and I remember what I thought about heaven at her age. The nuns at Catholic school explained heaven as a paradise and as our ultimate destination. Everyone we loved would be waiting there for us and we shouldn’t be afraid to die or sad when our grandma dies because heaven is a great place. In fact, this life isn’t the important one. The after-life in heaven is the most important…and it lasts for eternity. So, my stupid friends and I decided that we should try to get to this heaven as soon as possible. We were not able to fathom suicide at that age, but we decided that we would stop looking both ways before crossing the street. We had to cross the street a lot at school as the school was on one side of the street and the church and cafeteria were on the other side. It took the nuns 3 days to figure out what was going on.
This recent tragedy also sparked some deep conversations between Misiu and me. We started to think what we should arrange for our children in the event that we both died. I mean we have made financial arrangements, but who should take care of them? Some very hard conversations ensued. The kids could be sent to my family in the US – the family that at this moment they have never met. They would be provided for and would receive an excellent education, but I’m not sure someone would hug them or kiss them on a regular basis. If they were sent to Misiu’s family, they would not be lacking in hugs or kisses but for the person who took them in (his parents or more likely his sister), it would be a huge financial hardship even with the provisions we have made for them. What to do? Then we started discussing what to do in the case only one of us died. I said that I would sell everything and go back to the States, not right away, but eventually. I’m not Polish, and I wouldn’t want to live here without my Misiu. Having said that, I am confident that I could live here without Misiu, but I just wouldn’t want to. Misiu said that in the event of my death, he would do the same - sell everything and move to the US. That begs the question - Why do we live here in Poland in the first place?
The conversation got really quite deep and there was some crying involved (on my part, of course). I never much cared if I lived or died until I had children and I could only think about leaving my girls without a mother, not the fact that I would die. As the conversation got deeper and deeper with no solution in sight, Misiu pulled out his good old benchmarking system- the WWRD system. Maybe you are familiar with WWJD, the popularly-used abbreviation meaning “What would Jesus do?” There are bracelets, hats, t-shirts sporting these letters reminding you that when you are in a difficult situation you should think about what Jesus would do in such a situation.
Misiu’s version is a little different. It is WWRD, meaning “What would Rysiu do?” Rysiu is not his wise father or trusted uncle, or experienced family friend. Rysiu is a character from the Polish soap opera Klan. Klan in my opinion is thinly-veiled propaganda of Polish public television trying to show us, the Polish society, how we should live - how to be a good Pole, a good parent, a good spouse, a good sibling, a good child, a good student, a good neighbor, a good boss, a good employee, a good Catholic. There’s nothing better to break up a somber mood than a good old game of WWRD. Try it!
PS We decided that Rysiu, father of 3 in the serial, would want his children to be raised by his brother, the wealthy doctor, in the event of his and his wife Grażyna’s death. If only we all had wealthy doctor brothers ;)