A Lesson From Moana’s Grandma


My mother died last week, the night before Thanksgiving. She lived a long and very full life, and she left that life reluctantly.

Mom was a practicing Catholic, so my family grew up with the typical Catholic imagery of life and death. Heaven or Hell and all that. In her very last days, Mom was unsure of what was coming. She expressed her doubts that she’d really be reunited with our Dad, who was the love of her life for over six decades. She worried that her death would be a true ending, and she held on tenaciously to every fading breath.

It made me incredibly sad to hear her.

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Yesterday I spent the day with my grandsons. I hadn’t seen them for 10 days, the time of our vigil by Mom’s bedside. Both had been sick, as had their Mom and sister. They were in COVID quarantine, and as I grieved for my Mother, I missed all of them terribly.

So I was filled with relief and joy to have them here yesterday, although I worried that my sadness and my distracted mind might bother them.

I should have known better.

My little Johnny, all of four and a half years of wisdom, was working on a puzzle of the “Polar Express.” I was sitting with his baby brother on my knee, just watching the puzzle master at work. Suddenly, Johnny asked me,

“Is Great Grandma a spirit now?”

“Yes,” I answered. “She is.”

“But, what is her spirit?”

“What do you mean, honey?”

“What is it? What is her spirit?”

“I don’t know,” I answered as truthfully as I could. “You can’t see it. It’s the part of Great Grandma that loves us. It’s still around us.”

This seemed a bit too metaphysical for such a young child, but I wasn’t sure how to proceed. My daughter and her family don’t go to church, nor do we. I know that the kids have talked about life and death. I know that they have looked at and thought about the deaths of birds and salamanders and other animals. They’ve been through the death of their family dog.

But I didn’t know how much of the “invisible spirit” idea a four-year-old could grasp. I didn’t want him thinking of ghosts.

Johnny never stopped placing his puzzle pieces. He never even looked up at me.

He just said one thing before I broke down in tears and he came to give me a hug.

“Nonni,” he said. “I think her spirit is you now. I think it’s you.”

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It was later in the day, as we were eating a snack, that I asked Johnny what he thought about spirits. He thought for a minute, then looked up at me seriously.

“Remember Moana’s Grandma? She turned into a spirit of a ray.”

That was all this sweet, wise little soul needed to know. He wasn’t thinking of Heaven or Hell or worthiness or sins. He was thinking that he’d learned everything he needed to know about spirits from one Disney movie.

Call me crazy, but I am so happy to think that my strong, powerful, smart Momma is out there somewhere in sparkling spirit form. Maybe she is a spirit cat, like her precious kitty Tess. Maybe she is an octopus, so fitting for our “pulpi” eating Sicilian family.

Or maybe, just maybe, her spirit really is me.

I don’t know yet.

But I know that Johnny has taken a valuable lesson from one sweet movie. He doesn’t fear death, because even at his tender age, he understands that spirits go on and that death is not goodbye.

This, if you ask me, is the most perfect belief a human could have.

14 thoughts on “A Lesson From Moana’s Grandma

  1. I’m so sorry about the loss of your mother. Mine died in February. It will take you a while to start to heal. It’s not easy, but I’m so glad you can now be with your family, especially the little ones to bring light and joy into your heart and life.

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  2. My Dear Cousin,
    That was precious, it reminds me when my grandson was about 3 and his other grandmother died, I was reading him a book about dinosaurs and that they were extinct and he asked very matter-of-factly “Is his grandma extinct now?” They don’t perceive death in the same way we do, not sure at their age they understand the full meaning of it, which is a good thing. Hugs to you, this will hit you in bits and pieces, life is never the same, but it does go on. You will know soon enough what spirit your mom is now; you will feel her and think of her and know it is her.
    Love you, Linda

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  3. It’s always difficult to lose a loved one. Mothers are especially hard as they always have a special place in your heart. The four year old’s wisdom isn’t that bad. I don’t know what happens after death, but I know you mother’s memory will live in you always.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Google Elizabeth Frye and read her poem, “Do not Stand by my Grave and Weep.” There a a few versions. I am partial to the second one that Wikipedia mentions, but the sentiment in both fits this sitiuation. I saved the bulletin with the choral introit version a quartet sang in church a few weeks ago, I found it so moving ( for All Saints Day).

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  5. May you continue to see your mom’s Spirit all around you in the beauty of nature, your grand children’s smiles, a sunset. I love the image of Moana’s grandmother as a spirit ray and the significance of this creature in polynesian culture is so beautiful Polynesian people saw Manta rays as the symbol of Spirit Guardians representing graceful strength and wisdom. May you be guided and held through this time of grief and gratitude.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, thank you so much! What a wonderful gift it is to have friends we have never yet met! I like his take, too. It is at once tender and totally practical. For instance, the day after that lovely comment, he was asking why fish get stinky (from a card game we play). When I explained that dead animals smell as they decompose he asked, very calmly, “When I die, will I stink?” Um……….yes? His answer, as only a four year old boy could answer, “Cool”.

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