I didn't intend to be a catechist on the resurrection. I was content to focus on the "Jesus as the Good Shepard" motif and let the entire "resurrected body" thing be as vague to my children as it was for me growing up. Then my son died, and suddenly the whole family was thrust front row, center seat into swirling questions on the meaning of death, the fate of the soul, and the resurrection of the body.
I didn't have any preparation for this. My own parents, who were sort of furious that I was making such a big deal of a miscarriage, shook their heads and said "this is what comes of sharing baby news before the fourth month." My mother-in-law told me how she just "changed the subject really fast" every time Hannah mentioned having a baby brother who died.
Yet for better or worse, we are an open family. Hannah and Alex knew that we were expecting a baby, they knew the baby was sick, they knew the baby died, and they saw us bury him. So to explain this process, I skipped the biological "death is a part of nature" message of the "Lifetimes" book that a friend sent over from Hospice and, instead, relied on the wisdom of the church.
I explained the funeral as a time when our priest would bless their brother's body and we would pray for his soul to join with God. After the funeral, we left his body in "the special garden," their name for a cemetery. Their brother's soul wasn't in the garden, however, his soul was in heaven with God. (Because we had the intention to baptize Francisco, our priest allowed us to have a full Catholic burial for him.)
We visit the cemetery a few times each year. (The cemetery is far from our house, so we go whenever the mood takes us and we're in the area.) Francisco is buried in a special children's section, so there are lots of toys left on graves nearby. I pray some Hail Mary's by the grave while Hannah & Alex check out all new toys. The changes remind me to include all the area's grieving mothers in my prayers.
We usually leave a token of our visit. I don't have a gravestone there yet, just a statue of a newborn baby boy. At the one year anniversary of the funeral, Alex changed the statue to one of a toddler playing with his Dad. On our last visit this weekend, we left a tiny pumpkin and Hannah dropped off a fan from her tea with Martha Washington.
Whenever we visit the cemetery, I've always stressed that this is where Francisco's body is, but that his soul is in heaven. So for the past year, Hannah's said "my brother's soul is in heaven, and his body is in the special playground."
After my great-aunt's funeral service, Hannah altered this a bit. There is this graphic bit at a Mennonite service where the preacher says "this is the place where Evelyn's body will rise up to answer Jesus' call on the last day." This must have made some kind of impression on her because now Hannah will volunteer, "My mom's aunt died, but that's okay because one day she'll get her body back."
Hannah's extemporaneous statements are a bit of an eyeopener for relatives. My clarifying, "yes, we believe in the resurrection, don't we Hannah" tends to exaggerate rather than soothe their worried glances. Just what do we odd Catholics teach our pre-school children?
This Sunday the words "we look to the resurrection of the dead" jumped out at me. (We recently switched to a new parish which uses the Nicene Creed instead of the Apostles Creed.) "We look to" seems to fit so much better than "we believe."
I'm not sure enough of my exact "beliefs" in this subject to explain it clearly to a 4 and 3 year old. What does the resurrection of the dead mean? How does the body come back? Will Francisco have the tiny 4 inch body he had at his death? Or will he be a full grown 35 year old? All, I know for certain is that Jesus in his resurrected body could walk through walls and eat fish.
So instead, I'm going to start sharing this with Hannah and Alex: We are people who "look" to the resurrection. We hope. We know for certain that resurrection is possible and so we constantly look for the signs--and this "looking" process applies to lost brothers, and to lost peace in the world, and to seemly hopelessly lost relationships with our neighbors.