Life’s unknown requires faith, comfort

Published 12:03am Friday, February 24, 2012

The words came harder this year than they have in the past.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

It wasn’t as if I didn’t expect to hear that familiar Ash Wednesday phrase as I knelt at the altar and the priest made the mark of the cross on my forehead. The words come every year, and yet this year I couldn’t focus without thinking of the times when my family has faced the harsh reality of those words this past year.

Last summer, my wife and I dug a small grave in our backyard and conducted a small funeral service for our cat who had been with us for 13 years. She was one of the victims of the pack of dogs that terrorized downtown Natchez last year. With Gibson by our side we said farewell to our feline family member. It was Gibson’s first experience with death.

During the holidays my wife and I both said goodbye to our maternal grandmothers. Each struggled with her own limitations in her last months. In the end, the burdens of the body became too difficult for this world. Within a month, our family had attended another two funerals.

In six months, Gibson attended three burials. My wife and I knew that as much as we tried to guide our son, there would be questions.

As I felt the grit of the ashes rub against my forehead I was glad that my wife and I decided to leave Gibson behind Wednesday evening. I was especially relieved when the priest started talking about the inevitability of death.

It is the great equalizer, he reminded the crowd. Whether we are poor or rich, white or black, accomplished or lazy, we all die. Even with all of the miracles of modern medicine and science, death may be postponed but it cannot be cancelled. After all, we are all mortal, he said.

And thankfully God too experienced mortality in Jesus Christ, the priest pointed out.

Those are complicated thoughts for a 43-year-old who has already seen family and friends buried. I cannot imagine how hard the words would be for my son who is just starting to show fear of the dark and unknown.

In recent weeks, Gibson has started to express concerns about lions lurking in the backyard at night and snakes reaching out to bite.

Like most toddlers, he has watched Disney’s “The Lion King” and has seen a few nature videos.

Each has had its scary moments. In “The Lion King” Scar plots Mufasa’s death in a song filled with volcanic explosions and skeletons. In one nature program, Gibson watched a snake eat a field mouse.

Those programs and other stories of which mom and dad are not even aware have led to a few restless evenings tucking our son to sleep.

“No lions outside daddy,” Gibson said from his bed recently.

“Snake not get your head momma,” he told my wife the other night.

His statements did not end with a question mark, but they certainly seemed to seek affirmation that there were indeed no lions or snakes.

Fear of the unknown has finally entered our little one’s world.

In each case, we assured our son and gave him a hug — a hug that let him know he was safe and that we would protect him. As parents, we know that we will not be able to protect him from everything.

Hopefully we will be there to grapple with the same questions my wife and I grapple with even as adults — even questions to which faith is the only answer.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or

  • Anonymous

    Even with your careful guidance little Gibson will grow up into a world of hate and violence as it is today. The parent’s teachings go a long way in supplying him all the protection he will need.