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I'll tell him about the cat when he graduates from college

Tomorrow Charlie and I go to my mother's house for the first time since the funeral.  Last time we were there, Charlie didn't seem to notice my father's absence, and in fact only mentioned him once — when he put on Paul's unfamiliar dress shoes, walked them around the bedroom, then asked, "Are these Grandfather's shoes?"

At the time I was grateful for his unthinking acceptance.  Everything made me cry then, and I knew if he asked where my father was, I'd crumple.  (The shoes I could handle, just.)

I have been altogether cowardly.  I haven't ever talked to Charlie about death, which is, I assume, why, despite all evidence to the contrary, he thinks we still have two cats.  Exactly where he thinks the other one has been for the last nine months, I'm sure I cannot guess.

I know I'll have to tell him.  (About his grandfather, I mean.  Surely the cat can wait.)  So far I've made excuses.  I tell myself he's too young.  It's too soon.  He's not ready.  There's no way he can understand.  And I insist that the fact that it's too soon for me, that I'm not ready, that I can't understand, either, in no way influences my opinion.

But it boils down to fear.  I'm scared to break the news that sometimes the people we love go away, and then they don't ever come back.

What do you tell an almost-three-year-old?  How do you tell the truth when you want to protect them from it?

I could use your help here, please.  I know the answer lies somewhere between "gone out fishin' with Jesus" and "ashes on the mantel," but I'm damned if I can find it.