This is the only section of the novel in which the narrator portrays Catherine's thought processes—and even these glimpses are brief because the narrator shifts back to Rufus's point of view quickly. When Agee lets us inside Catherine's head, the limited ability of her comprehension highlights the enormity of the emotional complications that always surround a death. Rufus, though he understands the meaning of death more fully, shares a similar lack of emotional reaction or comprehension of the event.
When Hannah describes to the children the way their father died, the foreignness of the occurrence is clear in the fact that the children do not understand many of the words Hannah uses to relate what happened. The words that neither child can understand or pronounce—"embankment," "instantly," "concussion"—create a literal example of the difficulty of explaining death to anyone. Understanding what the words mean does not make the meaning of the event they describe sink in.
The difficulty the children have understanding death is compounded by the fact that Mary and Hannah attempt to explain Jay's death in a religious sense. Mary says that God took the children's father, and that is why he can no longer come home to them. Rufus has to double-check the facts by asking if this means that Jay is dead. Mary's avoidance of the word "dead" in describing Jay indicates that, at this point, the only way she can cope with Jay's death is by trying to understand it in religious terms. If Mary thinks of her husband merely as "dead," the awful reality of the meaning of that word is almost too much for her to bear. But Rufus needs this clarity; he persists in his logical reasoning of the event when he says to Aunt Hannah that if the concussion was what killed Jay en it was not God who killed him. Rufus is unable to understand the leap of faith that allows Hannah and Mary to see God causing the concussion in some way.