Contest #163 winner 🏆

10 Ways to Explain Your Husband's Death to Your Son

Submitted into Contest #163 in response to: Write a story about someone facing death for the first time in their life.... view prompt

146 comments

Christian Drama Sad

This story contains sensitive content

Content warning: Themes of death


***


1. Tell the truth


Be gentle but honest. This is your son's first time experiencing death, his only rodeo.


He is five years old, wild-eyed and sugar-crazed and baby-toothed. A sweet boy. He doesn't complain about going to church or preschool. He picks up the toy cars in his room without being asked, lowers the seat after using the toilet. Some days you feel as though you've won the lottery.


At night, he helps you say grace. Eyes closed, hands clasped over a plate of hot dog mac and cheese, he prays for God to watch over him and you and your husband and Waffles, his favorite teddy bear, though sometimes you wonder if he means 'waffles' the food. Once, he even prayed for God to watch over your favorite music group, even though he often refers to Queen as "old people music."


If he is mature enough to have this opinion, he is mature enough to handle the truth.


2. Tell most of the truth


On the other hand, he's still the boy who cried last Easter when he caught you crouching beneath the rosebush, depositing a bright blue egg in a patch of soil.


And again, when you were both playing Chutes and Ladders and he landed on the final chute, the one that jettisoned him back to the start of the game board.


And again, last week, when he saw your husband's face plastered on a news report and proceeded to pound the TV until the screen fizzled with static because he thought his father was trapped inside.


So maybe you only need most of the truth.


Because you'd had to fib a little back then, didn't you, when you explained over cookies and milk that you were helping out the Easter bunny because one of his eggs had hatched the very moment he stepped foot on your lawn, and he had to hurry off to parent the bunny hatchling? Or when you spent six-and-a-half minutes convincing your bawling child that you'd deliberately been playing the board game backwards as a joke, and that chutes were really ladders the whole time?


Or when you finally asked him to stop hitting the television set because the problem was fixed and his father might be back any minute, and then the two of you stared at the TV, the black-and-white grains pixelating the screen, the right antenna bent like a broken wing.


3. Tell some of the truth


After you've tucked him and Waffles into bed and he asks you again where his father is, tell him your husband will be staying with God for some time. Remind your son how good of a man his father is, how skilled he is with his construction tools. Explain that he's the only one who can help Saint Peter with the noise problem they've been having up there.


It's true: You don't know for sure whether or not the Pearly Gates has a squeaky-hinge problem. But you don't not know that. You figure with the amount of new people who enter every day, there's got to be some wear and tear.


And anyway, they've got to have some decent men up there in heaven, so maybe they chose your husband instead of, say, the guy who sold you this house, the one who told you that all your dreams would come true here and you'd never have to worry about anything.



4. Lie


Your pastor would disapprove. This you know. You can picture his face—sweat-soaked, hard-mouthed, firecracker-red—as he slaps the pulpit, preaching about the Ten Commandments. Can hear the cloudburst of his words stretching across the pews, salvation falling like rainwater: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." But it's your son, not a neighbour, and maybe that makes you exempt, an exception to the rule.


And anyway, who hasn't lied before?


Like the time the Campbells said they didn't have enough money for the collection plate, but you spotted them later that night at the wineshop, both of you carrying full baskets.


Or the time your pewmate Ruthie May, bless her heart, brought a vegan cake to Bible study, and you distinctly tasted butter. (You knew it was butter because you'd lied about your margarine-only diet.)


And what about those times your husband stumbled into bed after midnight and told you he was out doing some last-minute repairs for a client, and they'd invited him inside for some drinks?


Yes, if there's one thing you know by now, it's this: If you believe in something hard enough, it might stop becoming a lie.


5. Say nothing


Once, when you were a little girl, you tiptoed into the kitchen while your mother was taking a shower, threw open the freezer, and inhaled a whole six-pack of ice cream sandwiches. No real reason why. Just because you could.


When your towel-clad mother emerged from the bathroom and saw the results of your banquet—the empty Klondike box, you with one hand on your chilled stomach and one tacked to your clammy forehead—she said nothing. Took a step back, then another, until she was in the safety of her room and the door separated her from your groaning. It took fifteen minutes for you to sit up straight, half an hour before you were able to confess what you'd done, and longer than that for your mother to accept your apology.


But the thing is: That ice cream pain went away on its own. Your mother didn't have to say anything for it to vanish. All it took was some time.


Maybe that's why sometimes, when your son asks how much longer God needs your father's assistance, you say nothing. You float through the house like a poltergeist. Prepare the dinner, change the TV station, keep quiet. He's your ice cream pain, your husband. The stomachache you're waiting for time to heal.


6. Answer his questions


"Is Daddy coming back soon?" is the one you come to dread. For one thing, it's unpredictable, separated by minutes, hours, days. Sometimes, with the two of you glued together on the couch, you'll hear it four times during the span of 60 Minutes. Other times you can go a whole weekend without, thanks to the distractive power of coloring books and trips to the zoo.


For another thing, he's gotten into the habit of following this question up by reminding you that, according to your pastor, Jesus came back in just three days, so why is it taking his father so long?


You should be happy he's paying attention during the sermons at all. It's a small victory.


His other favorites include "Will he be back in time for my birthday?" and "Can we go to see him instead?" Though during dinner one night he surprises you by positioning his teddy bear in front of his face and lowering his voice to a grizzly tone and speaking for Waffles when he asks, "Will you leave me too?"


You have yet to answer a single one of his questions with yes.


7. Tell the truth (about how you feel)


Mommy is tired.


Mommy doesn't feel well.


Mommy has a headache.


Mommy is lonely.


Mommy needs five minutes of quiet time, can we please just have five minutes, please?


8. Be direct


He's carrying a basket as big as his head when you pick him up from preschool one day. It's overflowing with neon card stock—pinks, blues, reds, a rainbow collage of paper. He won't look you in the eye when you help him into his booster seat. It isn't until you've crossed the belt over his chest that you see the words on the cards, the crayon curlicue, the misspellings: "Git Wel Soone."


When you question this, he informs you that his teacher, the freckled one waving at you from the doorway now, heard the news about his father. He tells you how she made all other the kids skip nap time to write those cards while she took him to the side and told him it was okay to tell her how he really felt about losing his parent.


The door slams under the weight of your grip, a noise like a knife slicing an apple in two. You turn to do something to the teacher—what that something is you don't know, will only realize in the passion of the moment—but her back is turned, and she's already headed inside, and you're forgotten, alone.


You slide into the driver's seat. Let the engine rumble, purr. Tell your son you have a confession to make. You can only bring yourself look at him in the rearview mirror.



9. Reassure, reassure, reassure


You assure your son that none of this is his fault. Let him know that he had nothing to do with the accident or the bottles in the fridge or the fight that you and your husband had the last night either of you saw him. Let him know how much you appreciated him staying in his room, even when the vase shattered. Even when your voice grew wild with accusations. Even when your husband stormed out in his boxers and slippers, slammed his car door, sped off to who knows where.


Then, right there in the preschool parking lot, you do something you haven't done in a long time: You thank him.


For his resilience.


For being such a brave, strong boy through all this.


For that day he smacked the TV antenna and turned the screen into mush before the reporter could tell you that there'd been another woman in the car with your husband when, halfway out of town, he'd run the last redlight of his life.


10. Keep hope alive


Some days you feel as though you've lost the lottery.


The house is calm, quieter without your husband's specter haunting it.


Your son doesn't speak as much after the funeral. Maybe he doesn't trust you with answers anymore. Most days he just sits on the carpet with Waffles and glides his toy cars along the floor without making a sound. That is, except for when they hit the coffee table and flip on their side, a noise like a bomb detonating.


Sometimes, when that happens, you swoop down, a light in the darkness, and retrieve the car. Feel its weight shift in your hand. You gently guide it and its imaginary passengers to safety. Set it down somewhere and let it go where it's heading until it reaches its final destination.

September 17, 2022 03:58

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146 comments

Michał Przywara
18:59 Sep 17, 2022

There's a great line in this that really stood out to me: "If you believe in something hard enough, it might stop becoming a lie." That seems to be the crux of the whole piece. Even the title, I think, is a lie, because this story isn't really about helping a son cope with death, it's more about a wife coping with the death of her husband, or her broken marriage (which itself was a lie), of the broken promises that were made about how her life would go. She's not lying to the son to protect him, but rather to protect herself, so she can go...

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Zack Powell
07:45 Sep 18, 2022

Thanks as always for a killer analysis, Michał! Nothing gets past you, huh? As you've noted, lying was a theme that I was trying to weave into this (when/why to do it, the impact it can have, etc.), and bonus points for mentioning the title too! I hadn't considered that as a lie, but you're right on the money. (Double bonus points for the "death of her younger self" interpretation as well.) Best of luck to you too! (Side note: I reread the updates to your story, and I think it works quite nicely, with Alberto taking out the loan 'on-screen...

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Michał Przywara
00:17 Sep 25, 2022

Woo! Congrats on the win :D

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Zack Powell
00:49 Sep 25, 2022

Thanks, Michał! And good luck this week - I really enjoyed your story.

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Tommy Goround
13:52 Sep 28, 2022

Clapping

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16:29 Sep 23, 2022

Great story Zack. The hints at deeper emotions of sadness throughout were very well done, and I like how it slowly built up the backstory through a sort of flashback in most stages. The final paragraph is a brilliant metaphor for a longing that there could have been a different course and really projects the regret of the family winding up in this situation. The little arrows pointing toward alcohol problems are also handled in a tastefully subtle way. Congrats on the win!

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Zack Powell
17:33 Sep 23, 2022

Thanks, Scott! Wasn't sure if the backstory-flashback combination was going to work when I wrote this, so it's nice to see someone specifically mention it, and bonus points for mentioning the ending's metaphor. Appreciate you teaching me something new about my story. Good luck next week!

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Seán Mc Nicholl
15:38 Sep 23, 2022

Congratulations on the win.. again!! Powerful story, wrought with emotion, beautifully written! Such a worthy winner!! Congratulations! Well done!

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Zack Powell
17:29 Sep 23, 2022

Thanks, Seán, and a very belated congratulations on your win last week too! I've got your story on my TBR list this weekend, and I'm really looking forward to it.

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Rama Shaar
15:54 Sep 22, 2022

This is heartbreaking. I love the depiction of how feelings aren't linear; you can be mad at someone and still love them or at least be devastated by their death. The little boy's characterisation is also very realistic and makes your heart shatter.

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Zack Powell
00:18 Sep 23, 2022

Thanks, Rama! Love the phrasing on your interpretation: "feelings aren't linear." That's some great fiction writing advice.

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Rama Shaar
16:25 Sep 23, 2022

Hey! Congrats on the win😉

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Zack Powell
00:02 Sep 24, 2022

Thank you, Rama, and good luck next week! I've got some high hopes for you.

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Rama Shaar
01:26 Sep 24, 2022

Oh, thanks so much!

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Jeanette Harris
15:00 Sep 30, 2022

I don't know what one say, great story

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Zack Powell
16:15 Sep 30, 2022

Thank you, Jeanette!

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Charlotte Morse
14:37 Sep 30, 2022

Hi Zack, What a beautiful piece of writing (as per usual!) and hearty congratulations on your well deserved win. Such an emotional story and so well visualised and told that I lived through every heartbreaking excuse and reason for not telling him - yet. Sorry I haven't been around lately to read and comment on your amazing work, it's been a hectic few weeks.

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Zack Powell
16:17 Sep 30, 2022

Thanks for the kindness, Charlotte! Hope you've been doing well - your presence has been missed on here. Always happy to see your name on my screen, and I hope your writing endeavors have been going smoothly.

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Wafflez Wasfound
14:14 Sep 30, 2022

Ok, so second comment I’ve made on this. I’ve re-read this story at least eight times, and this specific spot has been making me nearly cry every time. The Waffles part. I don’t know if you meant to base that off my username, but either way it makes me want to melt down every time. And I’m not sure why. Also, over 100 likes? Wow! Congrats!! Welp, thats it from me. Have a great day!!

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Zack Powell
16:19 Sep 30, 2022

That's a lot of re-reads! Very impressive. I did think about you when choosing the Waffles name, actually. (It was between that and pancakes, and we all know which one I went with.) Thought you might enjoy the reference.

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Wafflez Wasfound
21:46 Sep 30, 2022

Awww thank you! I love this story so much, and that referance :)

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Daniel Gagné
12:03 Sep 30, 2022

Great story! Thanks for sharing.

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Zack Powell
14:18 Sep 30, 2022

Thanks for reading, Daniel! Much appreciated.

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Olivia Lee
02:31 Sep 30, 2022

Great job with the story Zack! I personally am terrible with making short stories, I once tried to and stopped halfway at 8000 words! I always have so many ideas but never complete them, so happy that you were able to do so many. This story hit me hard, it was very well thought out and simple but so elegant and the same time. Keep writing!

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Zack Powell
03:28 Sep 30, 2022

What a beautiful comment, Olivia! I'm sure you're a lot better at writing short stories than you're giving yourself credit for. It definitely gets easier the more you do it, so I'd really encourage you to keep at it. You might just surprise yourself. (And if the short story doesn't work out, that 8000 word one could make a nice novella!)

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Zee Boyce
17:09 Sep 27, 2022

I really enjoy the fact that this short story reveals so much more about the narrator rather than the son! What a wonderfully written piece!

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Zack Powell
18:02 Sep 27, 2022

Thank you so much, Zee! What a nice comment. I'm glad that the decision to focus more on the mother sounds like it was the right one.

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Sarah P.
15:58 Sep 27, 2022

Very sad, but an enjoyable read. They picked a great one!

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Zack Powell
16:38 Sep 27, 2022

Thank you so much, Sarah! What a sweet comment.

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Sarah P.
19:36 Sep 27, 2022

=)

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Ellis Shorts
13:25 Sep 27, 2022

I love the line at the end, "You gently guide it and its imaginary passengers to safety. Set it down somewhere and let it go where it's heading until it reaches its final destination." It does a perfect job of relating to the husband's death and wrapping up the story. Great work!

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Zack Powell
14:09 Sep 27, 2022

Thank you, Ellis! I was worried that line in particular was either too subtle or too heavy-handed, so it's nice to hear that it was just right. Appreciate the kindness!

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Daniel Legare
12:55 Sep 27, 2022

At first I felt the list idea was kind of quirky, I can't remember the last time I read a story in this format. I expected it to be comical maybe. But as I made my way down the list, it tug at my heart strings with more and more intensity, and in that last paragraph, where the mother guides the toy car safely away, had my chest squeezed tight. Great job, fantastic story!

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Zack Powell
16:35 Sep 27, 2022

Thank you very much, Daniel! This was intended to be a comical piece when I was writing it, as you were able to decipher from the beginning, but then things took a sad turn and I just had to go with it. Very relieved to know the last paragraph worked. Thanks again for the kindness!

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Jw Asbridge
02:57 Sep 27, 2022

I love the way it unfolds in mystery layers all the way to the conclusion.

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Zack Powell
04:03 Sep 27, 2022

Thank you very much! Glad to hear the layered format worked.

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Ally Hartness
23:38 Sep 26, 2022

I don't know what to say other than: THIS IS FRIGGIN AMAZING???? It's so emotional and I feel like it really captures how hard it is to cope with death. Overall just a great story and I absolutely love it. You deserved the win!

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Zack Powell
00:47 Sep 27, 2022

Thank you, Alina! Your comment made my day.

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19:56 Sep 26, 2022

Great piece, amazing visuals and many congrats on your win.

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Zack Powell
20:53 Sep 26, 2022

Thank you very much, Maureen!

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Lapis Salem
13:14 Sep 26, 2022

Great story! Congrats on winning, you definitely deserved it.

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Zack Powell
16:16 Sep 26, 2022

Thank you, Lapis!

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Philip Ebuluofor
08:39 Sep 26, 2022

It looked like a blog post with the style you tackled it, it can kill two birds with a stone.

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Zack Powell
15:03 Sep 26, 2022

Thanks, Philip! Blog post styling was the intent of this story structure, so I'm glad you caught onto that.

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Philip Ebuluofor
17:56 Oct 02, 2022

My pleasure.

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13:11 Sep 25, 2022

Congrats on the win, Zack! I love the format you present it in. It reveals so much.

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Zack Powell
16:17 Sep 26, 2022

Thanks, Kimberly! Much appreciated.

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Definitely worthy of the win! Incredible pacing. You peeled back the curtain ever so slightly with each step and it made the ending rather satisfying. Congrats!

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Zack Powell
16:17 Sep 26, 2022

Thanks, Antonio! You got just what I was going for with this, revealing the story bit by bit. Appreciate your kindness!

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