Finding Heaven On The Map



My three youngest children and I snuggle in bed to look at the iPad together. My husband is on an airplane flying from Northern Virginia to his brother’s home in California. He is a teacher and never travels for work, so his four-nights away is a big deal in our home. I open up maps of the United States, so we can see how far he is going. My kids ooh and ahh at the map and the idea that it takes five hours by airplane or nearly 39 hours of driving straight to get there.

Then I pull up the world map, so they can see how small the United States is in comparison to the entire world. I know we’ve looked at maps before, but from their excitement it feels like the first time. I point to London, where their Uncle lives.

“Wow, that’s so far,” my 8-year-old son AD says.

Then my almost six-year-old daughter, B, asks, “So, where is Pop-Pop on here?”

My heart freezes and I inhale deeply. It has been four months and 14 days since we said goodbye to their Pop-Pop, my Daddy.

“Pop-Pop is in heaven,” I say with as much confidence as I can muster. I know what she is going to ask next and yet I’m unprepared. I thought we covered all of this. I read them all the age appropriate books. I cried with them and gave them photos to remember. I made them part of the memorial services. I answered all their questions and did everything I was supposed to do. I thought she understood. But, really, how can a 6-year-old understand something I can’t completely understand.

“I mean, where is heaven on the map?” she asks.

Interestingly, AD who always has an answer doesn’t say a word. He also wants to know. They both want to know exactly where their Pop-Pop is right now.

“Well, it doesn’t work that way sweetie. Heaven isn’t a place you can see or find on a map,” I say. “No one that is alive really knows what it’s like. But, many people believe it is a beautiful place where your spirit lives on and you get to be with your loved ones again.”

They both nod and are silent. They are absorbing everything I said. Then my three-year-old jumps on the iPad and screams that she wants to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. I’ve never been so grateful for the troublesome threes before.

The conversation is dropped and I give them 10 more minutes of play before bedtime. They run into their rooms and I stare at the map. I wish I could find him on this damn device. Imagine if they made an app for that? For seeing our loved ones one more time. For explaining to our children what it really means to say goodbye. To learn how to handle the void. To tell me if I’m saying the right things.

My children are young and have many questions I can’t answer. Their grief and loss sometimes feels like a second knife in my heart that cuts deeply when I least expect. Sometimes, I forget that they lost someone they love too.

Parenting while grieving yourself is extremely difficult. It’s so much easier for me to pretend that they don’t think about it and have moved on. Maybe this is why I haven’t spoken about Pop-Pop with them recently. Maybe this is why it was a shock that instead of asking where Disney World is on the map, they asked where they can find heaven. I handled their question the best way I could, but truthfully, what I wanted to say was that I would give anything to find heaven on the map. To see for myself, if only for a moment, that all my loved ones are there… waiting and peaceful. To really know.

If I was a better writer, perhaps I could come up with “Five Ways to Comfort Your Children After Losing a Grandparent,” or maybe a “Guide to Parent Your Kids After Losing Your Parent.”

But, I’m at a loss. I don’t have the answers and I don’t really believe anyone does. We just do the best we can – like all of our parenting experiences.

For now, I will make a better effort to acknowledge my children’s feelings and keep the memory of their Pop-Pop alive. I will have faith and choose to believe that while I may not be able to find heaven on the map, we will one day find heaven.

I will do this for them and for myself.


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  1. 1


    It has been 4 months and 19 days since I lost my daddy, and since my girls lost their Papa. While this completely broke my heart and left me a total mess, I needed to read this. My 4 year old talks about my dad a lot. She doesn’t understand. All she knows is he’s gone, and she really wants to be with him where he is. :’( Thank you for sharing this.

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  2. 2

    Neisha Gabrysiak says

    Thank you so much for this. It’s been 4 months and 19 days since my daddy passed away. 4 months and 19 days since my girls lost their Papa. I hurt, so much, every single day. I feel like I’m missing a limb. And it hurts to breathe when I think about him. My youngest misses him, but she just turned 2, so she doesn’t really understand. My 4 year old misses him so much. She talks about him all the time. She’s told me that she wants to be in heaven with him. It’s a very difficult thing to explain, because it’s a very difficult thing to have to grasp yourself. If you ever get around to writing those books, I’d definitely buy them. =)

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  3. 3


    When we lose a loved one we tend to stop talking out loud about them to keep the hurt to ourselves. Thank you for making us recognize our kids process death differently than we do and are still thinking of their loved one like we do. I am sure you put a smile on Pop Pop’s face in heaven!

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  4. 7


    Hard enough to try to explain to my 4 year old daughter who was 2 when my mom lost her battle to cancer. Going to be even tougher to explain to my 5 month old son who so sadly never got to meet his wonderful gma. ) :

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  5. 8

    Christi says

    I lost my mom a year before my first child was born, and it was so hard because I knew what a fantastic grandma she was to her other grandchildren and what a presence she would have had in my chidrens’ lives. I often tell them stories about her, and when I ask my 2 year old where Granny is, he says she’s in heaven and she’s an angel. Makes me tear up but also smile to know that she’s still able to be in their lives. I also make sure get spirit stays within us by carrying out some of her favorite traditions. It’s been over 3 years and it doesn’t hurt less than it did in the beginning, but at least I can shift my focus to my kids and live more in the present than the past. My heart goes out to all of you coping with loss.

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  6. 9


    Such a beautiful, heartfelt post – I literally felt like I was there and can relate to every word… my kids still have difficulty understanding the loss we suffered a little over a year ago when their “uncle” (dad’s best friend) was gunned down in a senseless violent tragedy… it’s never easy to explain something to children that you don’t quite understand or accept yourself… thanks so much for sharing this wonderful story. I really needed this today.

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  7. 12

    Sara says

    In September it will be a year since we lost my mom…she was a wonderful grandma and it breaks my heart constantly that she’s not around for my daughters anymore. Whenever they bring her up, like “I miss Grandma” or “I wish Grandma was here” I am just honest and say me too and sometimes I cry or tear up because it’s sad and I want them to know it’s ok that they are sad. I ask them every so often “what did you love doing with Grandma the most?” Or “what do you miss most about her?” just because I love hearing their answers and knowing they haven’t forgot about her yet.

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  8. 13


    This is such a wonderful article. I lost my FIL in October and my 5yo asks so many questions about heaven and where his grandpa is. It’s really hard to answer. I too wish I could just point to it on a map or be able to answer all the questions he has.

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  9. 14

    Kim Wiest says

    Good blog…keep sharing your memories together…it both heals and helps them to remember/know our loved ones. Also, I hope you have God in the equation because truly without Jesus work, Heaven isn’t possible. God’s peace…

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  10. 16


    This is such a beautiful and heart-wrenching post. Dealing with loss alone, and collectively, is one of the hardest things. Keeping the memories of lost loved ones alive for children (and ourselves) is so important; kids will always want to hear stories and see photos of those who have come before them. Thank you for shedding light on the importance of keeping these memories alive.

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  11. 17


    Thanks for sharing! As hard as is is to explain sometimes, I’m finding that my almost 6 yr olds questions & conversations about his Papa & his baby brother have helped me much more than I ever thought possible. There are a lot of days that he “forces” the topic so to speak….talking about them give us both comfort & keeps me from holding it all in.

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  12. 18

    Kelly says

    Today is 10 months ago I lost my dad. I found out I was pregnant a week before he died. As I sit here cuddling my 10 week old (he came early!) I too am wondering how I will someday explain where his Papa is, exactly, and what Heaven is and how it all works. Reading this made me cry, and I so understand what you are going through. I think most daughters and dads have that special bond, and when they aren’t around for our children it makes it a little harder. I am sorry for your loss. God bless.

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