Sunday, February 8, 2009


Ben was drinking hot chocolate from a small, fancy tea cup that came from my grandmother's china set. When I was a kid, she used to serve me coffee in it - with lots of cream and sugar - and it made me feel very grown up.

I pointed out to Ben that the cup belonged to Edith and reminded him that Edith was my grandma and that Edith was grandma Judy's mom.

tea cup.JPG

"She died a long time ago." Ben added.

"That's right. Before you were born."

The concept of death has just entered our vocabulary and Ben is still figuring out what it means. He experiments by dropping it into conversation now and then.

"She's an invisible spirit."

The idea that people who die become invisible spirits was my first clumsy attempt at a reassuring death narrative, since we haven't yet given Ben a theological framework for the afterlife.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Ben asked:

"Does Edith look like Brittany?"

Brittany had been Ben's wonderfully fun and loving aide at his afternoon pre-school, until she recently got a full-time teaching job.

At first I dismissed the comparison as one of Ben's frequent non-sequitors.

Then, I stopped in my tracks and had the realization: Oh my god. He's right. Brittany does look like a young version of my grandmother.

I went to my dresser and checked a photo that my mom gave me for Christmas. It's a portrait of my grandmother in her late teens or early twenties.

The likeness was uncanny.

The photo had been lying face down on my dresser since the night I had unwrapped it.

To my knowledge, Ben has never seen this photo (or any others) of my grandmother. Chris didn't show him. Neither did my parents.

I can't figure out how he made that connection. How did he know about this likeness, one that I had not even realized?

I'm at a loss for a rational explanation.

Maybe that spirit is not so invisible after all...

ben and brittany2.jpg

Brittany with Ben


My maternal grandmother, Edith Johnson


TC said...

The first thing I thought of was a little less spiritual, but something you might want to consider(because if I'm right, he might still need reassuring...): Maybe he's thinking of Brittany's leaving as a kind of a death, and what he was really asking was whether all dead people look alike. Or, less concretely, maybe he was asking whether Brittany looks like Edith to determine whether Brittany IS dead.

I'm having trouble verbalizing this, but it's the kind of thought process I could see my son going through: Edith is dead, and so whatever she looks like is what death looks like. Now Brittany is gone. If she looks like Edith, then it would mean she's dead.

Did that make ANY sense?

All of that said, I do see a strong resemblance, and it does make me think that, in some way, Edith's been looking out for Ben.

Linda said...

They do look a lot alike! My paternal grandmother's name was Eleanor Johnson.

I have no religious beliefs but my personal way of thinking about death is that when you die, you become part of the I think that's what I'll say...very similar to being an invisible spirit...

Jordan said...

Wow. That's uncanny!

BCC said...

Whoah. I agree the likeness is uncanny. Very interesting.