Monday, August 2, 2010

Michael Jackson and a Lesson in Dying

Q Wearing his Comedy Kit
Thursday before last, after a long day with my three children, I found myself at a concert with all of the kids in tow.  My husband Jon is a professional musician and was playing for a musical revue at the famed Duke Ellington School of the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.  Earlier I had mentioned that it would be a fun concert for the kids, so at the last minute, just as Jon was leaving, we all piled into our car with the broken air-conditioning and made our way to the school in Georgetown.  Jon had a rehearsal so we got there approximately two hours before the concert actually started.  After chasing my kids around the theatre, the orchestra pit, and green room, the actual show finally started.  Thank God!

We made it through the first few sets and intermission.  The second half of the show was jazz and Motown, ending with a tribute to the late Michael Jackson.   I was sitting next to Quentin, with Noelle finally dozing in my lap.  Jon-Jon was a seat away from Q watching the show.  Images of MJ's life were projected on to the screen of the stage while the kids sang.  Quentin touched my arm and asked," Is Michael Jackson real?"  I was surprised by the question because he had been listening to MJ all of his life.  Daddy often covered Jackson's music in his gigs, so he would brush up by listening to MJ's songs, particularly from the Jackson Five days. 

"Yes he is real." I whispered.  Q started to ask me another question but I sssshed him. I can't remember the second question he asked me, all I know is that my answer was, " Michael Jackson died last year." What followed was a sharp gasp. I glanced at Q, his eyes were wide and his mouth hung open.  I turned back to the concert, Quentin has always been dramatic, so I did not think much about his response. 

"Did he go someplace before?" Quentin asked excitedly, his voice high-pitched and shaky.  I was still oblivious to what was going on.  "Quentin," I replied sternly, "Let's talk about this after.  If I can hear you - so can everybody else." I turned my attention back to the stage where they were singing, "Heal the World." It was only a matter of seconds when I felt shaking.  I turned.  Quentin was sobbing. He had crumbled down into his seat and his eyes were filled with tears.  He was trying so hard to be quiet, but the sobbing wracked his little body and every few seconds a shaky gasp would slip out.  He was looking up, which is what he does when he is trying to stop his tears. I was shocked.

"Baby! What's wrong?" I passed a sleepy Noelle over to her big brother and took Q into my lap.
"Why are you crying?" I asked hugging him as tightly as I could.
"Did he go somewhere before he died.  Did he go to a better place?" He asked, still trying to keep his grief inside.
"You mean after he died?"
"Yes baby he went to a better place." I whispered as gently as I could.
"Better than China?" he asked.
I had to laugh." Yes - much better than China."
"He was my favorite."  His crying started to get louder.  It was hard for me not to cry, he was so genuinely sad and hurt.  On stage the Jackson Five group started singing, " You and I must make a pact, we must bring salvation back...where there is love - I'll be there." A young Michael Jackson flashed on the screen.
"Michael Jackson, he was my favorite player..." he cried. As he erupted into more tears, I picked him up and hurried him out of the theatre. In the foyer, Quentin just cried, repeating over and over that Michael Jackson was his "favorite player." He didn't know the word for "entertainer" and at that time he couldn't find the word "singer" in his vocabulary.  I whispered and rubbed his back to calm him, but I didn't try to make him stop crying. Quentin had a right to his tears and grief.

As I held Quentin and allowed him to explain to me how much he loved MJ, I realized that the reality of death and loss just hit him.  Over the years he had heard us talk about Lauren and was even involved in some of the conversations.  Last summer he was present when my visiting niece announced Michael Jackson's death.  We all talked about it freely and I had  thought at the time that Quentin understood. He didn't.

Quentin's understanding came in the dim theatre while the young boys in Afros and bell bottoms sang and grainy images of Michael Jackson flashed in the background.  The sadness of the music, the happy images of a young gifted boy, the stillness of the audience and the sobriety in which the kids sang all contributed to Q's sudden understanding about the finality of death.

We went back into the theatre when the music became more upbeat. Q went on to tell me, " He was my biggest fan!" 
"You mean you were his biggest fan?" I corrected as I wiped his tears.
"NO!" He screeched, " He was MY biggest fan!" Q wasn't in the mood to be corrected.
He sat in his seat alternating between weeping and crying until the show was over and the houselights were up. After about an additional 15 minutes, I asked him if he could stop crying. 
"No.  I am sad that Michael Jackson is dead and I want to cry." He stated firmly between his tears." I will stop crying after I talk to my daddy." So we sat there, he in his seat, sleeping Noelle in my lap, and Jon-Jon already in the orchestra pit with Jon.  I could tell by the movement of Jon-Jon's hands and the animation of his face, that he was already telling Daddy everything.

It wasn't until we got to the car, that he got a chance to talk to daddy who was tired and annoyed.  It had been a VERY long concert.  I said to Jon, "He needs to tell you what's on his mind." Daddy slipped into the driver's seat, turned, looked at Q and asked, "What is on your mind?"  Quentin told him as best he could about his sadness over Michael Jackson's death.  Jon took a second and replied, "You know what Q?  When Michael Jackson died, there were many many people, grown-ups from all around the world, who loved him very much and and they cried too.  It is alright to be sad and to cry. "
"I was his biggest fan." Q stated his tears already drying.
"Wow! Now that's saying something." Jon stated nodding." Do you think you can stop crying now?" He asked.  Quentin nodded.  Jon got out of the car and finished packing the trunk.  After the car door closed behind him, I turned to Q and asked, "Do you feel better now?"  He smiled and nodded.

Daddy returned and as we pulled off in the car we talked about the 50 years of music, videos and concerts Michael Jackson left behind.   Jon and I started reminiscing about the early Michael Jackson days as Jon-Jon and Q listened.  

"Oops!" Quentin suddenly interrupted.
"What!" We all asked in unison.
"I forgot...I like The Beatles more than Michael Jackson!"  He yelled. "Two of the Beatles are dead."  I stated without any good reason.  There was a long sigh, "Ohhhh NEVER mind." Quentin replied in exasperation.  We all laughed together.  It's true - children are reslient.


  1. I started crying as soon as he did when I was reading this. Bless his little heart. Its so hard to let our kids grow up and feel emotions that they have never felt before and teaching them the world is not the happy place it has always seemed to be for them. I would have been in tears too if that were my son. And its so good he knows good music!!

    Long Live MJ.

    I'm your newest follower.

  2. Thanks for inviting to your blog. Following through MBC/Simply Follow.
    Thanks for doing the same.
    Bizee Mama
    aka Kimberly

  3. Awwwww, brought a tear to my eye. I love this post, and your son is absolutely adorable.

    I am loving the entire concept behind your post.

    New follower here, please come visit me if you get the chance

  4. This is a wonderful post. We just lost our cat, and I have struggled when talking about it with my boys. Fortunatly I guess they weren't big fans of the cat because they don't seem to mind much. It has made me think about I will approach the topic when someone they care about passes away, especially since I don't know that I have come to terms with the whole thing myself....

  5. You are an excellent writer! This is always a hard thing to explain to kids.

    I hope you get a chance to check out my green mom giveaway blog.

  6. Hello! I am a new follower of your blog! Please subscribe back and check out my 6 current giveaways! Looking forward to reading more of your posts!

  7. They are so resilient when they want to be and so focused when they want too!!! this post made me all teary eyed, especially because of how much I'VE loved Michael my whole life and how sad I was too. Great post. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and for the sweet comment. Love that our blogs have similar themes! Cheers to breaking down those expectations and WEARING OUR OWN CAPES!!!

  8. What a beautiful post. You recreated with words such a real picture of life with small children and how genuine their emotions are. I am sometimes shocked at the sincerity with which my little ones feel and understand things. Bless your little Q's heart. He is a sweetie.

  9. Oh my goodness, what a great story. I cried, I laughed, I related, I learned. You truly have a gift!

  10. Oh, you know that's me, right - I signed in with the wrong account. Still haven't totally got the hang of this "internet" thing ;).

  11. Thanks Peryl,
    How could i not know the blue power ranger.

    Thanks so much. I am sure as a writer you understand how challenging accepting "the call" can be thanks for the kudos. It reallyt means something to me.


  12. Hi Heather:
    Thanks for the follow and the comment. My heart still wells up when I read my post (its the only one I have read several times). Yesterday Q was sitting with me while I was reading it - and he said sadly but with full composure, " Yes that was when I was sad because Michaeljackson died." (Michaeljackson is how he says it everytime, he doesn't realize its two names)

    I am proud of him.

  13. This reminded me so much of my own kids. They're going through the grieving process because my mom died a year ago. Every once in a while, they just lose it at a really strange time. Actually, so do I.

  14. Partly Sunny:

    There is nothing wrong with losing it. We have to allow our grieving process to play out, to run it's course. My baby dies three years ago and if the need arises - "I still lose it" And I don't feel bad about it.