Leelee Knows

The day Daddy left, Scott and I left my parents’ house to go to our own and give our children (at the time, 9 and and 3) news that would make them know that bad things can happen.

I didn’t know that until I was 17. I was lucky to be so old.

Beth McNeill went to our house first, sitting vigil, to make sure no one pulled up in our driveway and inadvertently said something to Mac or Leelee that would let them know their little lives would never be the same before we could tell them why.

When we got home, we learned from sweet Ms. Pam that Mac was fishing at the Country Club lake. Scott got in his truck and went to get him.

That left me with Leelee.

I was crying. I don’t know how long it had been since I became The Destroyed, but it hadn’t been long. It hadn’t remotely begun to sink in that my own life would never be the same.

It had maybe, possibly, been an hour since I found out that my Daddy left us.

I don’t remember much. But I do remember this.

I remember where I was sitting on our couch. I remember Leelee in front of me. I remember her saying, “Are you sad, Mama?”

I nodded.

She said, as she cocked her head to the side, “Why?”

And I remember saying back to her, “Charles went to heaven.”

I expected tears like my own. I expected her to fall on to me like I did to my mama.

But instead, her face absolutely lit up. She was genuinely excited with that news.

“To see Jesus??!” she asked.

Yep. Charles went to see Jesus. 

Telling her that Charles was in Heaven was the equivalent to her being transported back to Disney World.

She couldn’t have been happier for him.


Days and weeks passed, and Leelee would tell me regularly that she wanted her Charles, and I would fall into a heap.

She would tell me that she was ready for Charles to come back from Heaven, and I would fall into a heap.

She would say that she missed her Charles, she loved her Charles. She would literally extend her arm into the air as if she was trying to reach for him. And, naturally, I would fall into a heap…because more than anything in the world, I wanted to reach for him, grab him, and snatch him back to us where he belonged.

I wanted her Charles, too, every time she said it.

Every time she didn’t say it.

Every single day.

All day long.

And then, I noticed a pattern. She was especially talking about Daddy after she had gotten in trouble. If I got on to her about something, she missed her Charles. She cried. I cried. Whatever she got in trouble for? Forgotten.

It took a little while, but I finally realized….my three year old was totally playing the Charles-card.

Three going on 13. Frightening.


And then, last week, she wasn’t in trouble. She wasn’t playing anything.

She just looked at me and said, “Mama, why is Charles in Heaven?”

And I said, “Because, baby, that is where you go when you die.” (I wasn’t about to get into any theology. She’s now 4, but it seemed to be quite enough. That talk may be around the corner, considering all that has come after…)

Her eyes got as big as saucers, filled with complete shock, as if this was the first she had heard of such….

….because it was.

And she said, “Charles DIED???????”

My little baby, so tiny, so precious, so innocent, so pure, never, ever, ever equated her Charles being in Heaven with his death.

Until that moment.

Until I had to say that horrible, horrible word to her.

Until she fell into a heap.

And it was as if he left all over again.

Until then, Heaven, in her little head, meant happy. All happy.

But obviously, Death did not.

I don’t know how and where and when and from what she has gleaned her own 4 year old understanding of death, but she knew, she knew, that death meant he wasn’t coming back.

And since then, she has brought it up almost every single day.

She is bothered. She is sad. She misses her Charles.

She thought he was coming back.

And I, her mother who loves her more than anyone else on the entire planet, had to look into those huge blue eyes and tell her that he wasn’t, he isn’t, ever coming back.



Damn it, Daddy. HOW. COULD. YOU?

Damn it. Damn it. Damn it.

If YOU were going to do it, YOU should have had to be the one to explain, over and over and over again to that tender little baby girl who loves you so completely, so deeply, so totally, so MUCH, WHY you are in heaven.

YOU should have to bear that burden.

Not me.



Tonight, I snuggled up to her to watch a movie, and she asked again.

I answered again.

But tonight, Leelee wiped tears from MY cheeks–again–and asked for the second time, “Why is Charles in Heaven?”

I had already given her the horrible answer. I wasn’t going to give her the real answer:  Because he would rather be there than here.

And when I didn’t give her an answer, she tapped her fingers on her little pink t-shirt and said, “My heart is broken.”

And then, “I can’t put it back together.”

She’s. Four.


I feel certain she heard that from somewhere and I don’t know where—but no matter—that little mouth saying those words about her own heart, able to articulate and connect Daddy’s permanent leaving and how she feels….once again…..it feels like he left all over again.


My own heart has been pummeled. It only beats because it is an organ designed to do so. It is bruised and ripped and punctured, but somehow, it still functions.

Hearing my little baby girl talk about her own heart, her own pummeled, bruised, ripped and punctured heart….

….if some little boy did that to her heart, I would track them down and…well…you know….

But it wasn’t a little boy.

It was a man, a man who should have known that his leaving would create a perpetual wake that we could not navigate, because we shouldn’t…because that kind of wake is too dangerous, too treacherous to travel across.

It would leave us breathless, scared, scarred, drowning.

But he left it anyway.


The man who did the pummeling, bruising, ripping, puncturing to my Leelee’s heart, creating that inexcusable, disastrous wake, isn’t here to answer for himself…

…and I want to tear down a building because I can’t snatch him back and make him answer her.

I can’t snatch him back and make him answer ME.

I can’t snatch him back and tell him how horrible it is enduring day after day without him.

I can’t snatch him back and hold on to him so hard and so tightly that he can’t get away again.


I can’t snatch him back and make him understand–make him look at–what he has done to my babies.

I can’t snatch him back and make him look at what he has done to me. To all of us.

And that makes his wrong an even worse wrong.

He shouldn’t get to just leave and completely escape those big blue eyes.

He shouldn’t get to escape mine, either.


After all, he gave them to me.


In a separate post, when I have more emotional energy to go down that memory-road, I’ll address telling Mac, because it is similar thread in that we had to have a do-over to make sure he understood why.

It was terrifying, and he is 9.

I had to say it to him. Because he is 9.


But I can’t–and shouldn’t–and won’t–say that to a 4 year old.

I won’t say that her Charles left her on purpose.


Until one day, I will.

Because I will have to.

Just like I had to, to Mac. My 9 year old.


Damn it, Daddy.




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