I may not understand Santa Claus, but I do know why we made up the concept of heaven - the better place we all go after we die. Heaven helps us wrap our heads around the concept of death and give it a deeper meaning. It's also a bit of wishful thinking. No, wishful thinking is too weak a term. For many people it is absolutely necessary thinking. Believing that our loved one is waiting for us in heaven or that our loved one is not alone but surrounded by family in heaven - well, that's a pretty tempting concept. Unfortunately, that's a concept I don't believe in.
We explained to the girls that Grandpa died, first in English and when they seemed to not understand, we explained again in Polish. It wasn't a language problem. It was a death problem. They asked when Grandpa died, how and where. We told them the truth - that Grandpa was at home, out working in the camper, when he had a heart attack and died. Rosie asked, "So when we go there to visit, Pap won't be there anymore?" I answered yes to which she replied that she didn't understand. And how can I explain it to her any better than that when I myself do not understand? I cannot imagine that when I go there next time, my father will not be there to greet me.
"Where'd he go?" Rosie asked. Here is the moment I decided to tell my children the truth. I may have caved on the whole Santa thing, but this is much too important. I simply told her, "I don't know." Because I do not know and nobody knows. That is the mystery of life of death.
"Grandpa went to a better place, heaven, where he is watching us and waiting for us," may be a more satisfying answer not only for the kids, but it's just not something I can latch onto.