August 27, 2008

The Hard Questions

Immediately after Mia was born - and by immediately I mean after the blinding panic attack and mild hyperventilation - and I held her for the first time, I felt like a natural at parenting. It felt like there was nothing that the world could throw at me that I couldn't handle. Except, perhaps, an invasion of alien midgets or a leaked Celine Dion sex video. Parenting felt - and still feels - instinctual. I knew what to do at all times. Sure, she and now Owen wanted only the comfort of her mother for the first nine months of her life, howling at me whenever she was handed off. But still, I felt like I could handle the parenting thing, really pull it off with style. With few exceptions, I've always known how to handle the kids, how to deal with situations, how to say the right thing. But those exceptions, man, they're humbling as hell.

Earlier in the evening, over dinner with Nana, having a conversation about birthdays which inevitably led to talk of getting older:
Nana: Great grandma Pearl died but Great Grandpa Jack is still alive.
Mia: Why did Pearl die?
Beth: Because she got very old and then she got sick.
Mia: Oh.

In bed, whilst talking about Snow White and the evil stepmother's transformation into an old lady:
Mia: I'm getting older.
Me: You are! You're a big girl. You even wear underwear.
Mia: Uh-huh. But I don't want to get too old and die.
Me: (stunned silence)
Mia: I just want to get old enough to lose a tooth and give it to the Tooth Fairy.
Me: That'll happen soon enough.
Mia: But am I going to die?

Fuck. To say that I was at a complete and utter loss was like saying that the Pope is slightly spiritual or Amy Winehouse has a tiny problem with illegal substances. It wasn't that I didn't know the appropriate answer or that I couldn't articulate it into something she'd understand that wouldn't simultaneously scare the crap out of her and turn her into a semi-depressed prematurely emo-toddler, wearing black barrettes in her hair and listening to Death Cab for Elmo. In fact, I offered an answer with a minimum of intervening silence. You're not going to die anytime soon. I don't want you to worry about that. Ever.

What truly debilitated me was the way I felt about the question.

In the age old glass is half empty or half full debate, I come down squarely in the half full camp. I'm an incurable optimist. I believe that good things happen more often than bad and that if you do good, good will come back around. My optimistic views of the future in no way involve my daughter and death coexisting on the same temporal plane. The thought, actually, makes my insides clench resulting in the feeling that my entire body is collapsing in on itself. And while I don't want to worry about my kids dying (I cringed while I typed that, just so you know), I certainly don't want them to worry about it.

Parenting is a weird, fucked up balancing act involving - but not strictly limited to - honesty, happiness, pain, worry, silliness, laughter, heartbreak and dread. And while the gray hair will inevitably betray you, as one ad executive once declared, never let 'em see you sweat.

So, how do you deal with death, personally or with your kids? How do you or would you explain it?

Posted by Chris at August 27, 2008 6:39 AM

woah. i'm up early and was just looking for something worth reading... i guess i found it. i cringed too, just so you know.

Posted by: jessica at August 27, 2008 7:33 AM

I just did. Didn't have any choice in the matter. I made a ton of mistakes explaining it all to Amanda, I'm sure. I mean I was insane from losing her sister. But, I just tried to be honest and open about it. (Of course since I am a Christian I was able to talk to her about Jesus in a good and loving way. Jesus loves the little children and since the drunk man killed her sister Jesus came and took her to Heaven.)
By the way, Mandy just called me and she is sick again with an unexplained thing and I am just dying here. She's nearly 32 and the worry over your kids, the feeling of their pain never stops.

Posted by: Maribeth at August 27, 2008 7:52 AM

Just remember The Lion King. Its the great circle of life.

Seriously, keep it simple. Everything dies but they won't (or shouldn't!) die for a very long time. Kids are looking for reassurance and its our job to promise a bright future, whether or not we can guarantee it.

Posted by: Debbie at August 27, 2008 7:57 AM

I thought I might hyperventilate the day my oldest announced that he was ready to die because he'd like to meet God and see what Heaven was like. THAT was a difficult conversation.

I've told them that everyone will die someday, hopefully later rather than sooner. Yes, they'll die, as will I, after leading long and happy lives. I certainly hope I was telling the truth.

But, that conversation was nothing compared to the one I had on Sunday concerning how babies are made.

Posted by: Alissa at August 27, 2008 8:11 AM

We had to introduce our daughter to the concept of death early. Just weeks after she turned 2 my husband's 25 year old brother died of cancer. I really believe in being as honest as I can with my kids, at an age-appropriate level, of course. So we told her that her uncle had died and what that meant, at it's most basic level (that he doesn't eat, sleep, breathe, think, feel anymore) and that the reason he had died was because he was very sick and his body couldn't live with all that sickness in it. We explained a little about the funeral and how we and her Grandma and Grandpa were feeling sad, but that they would still be very happy to see her and that hugs were very good for people who are sad.

My biggest concern was that she would somehow think that sick =death. Like if we got a cold, she might think that her mom or dad was going to die. We tried really hard to differentiate between that kind of sick and cancer-sick. We made the decision not to let her see the open-coffin (my inlaws thought she should see the body- don't get me started on that parade - i didn't think there was any reason to expose a 2 year old to a dead body when she's not mature enough to understand the real difference between sleeping and dead, talk about a mindfuck!). We tried to constantly reassure her that most people don't die until they are very old and that mommy and daddy are just fine and she didn't need to worry or be scared.

Mostly, we just answer the questions as they come. Try to keep it simple, reassure them, and let them know you are always willing to talk to them about it. It's not the easiest subject, but knowing that you're open to talking to them will make it easier to keep an open line of communication in the future.

In the end, I think my daughter, at 5, now has a much better grasp of mortality than most kids her age. We talk about death and we don't make it something to spend too much energy on. The inlaws talk about heaven a lot. I don't feel I can have as much certainty about what takes place after I die, but I don't feel it's something to fear.

I'm not sure what your beliefs are, but Dale McGowan has a fantastic post about talking about death with his daughter. He writes from the perspective of a secular humanist/atheist, which I am not. But I find so much of what he has to say extremely poignant and wonderfully intelligent. The post is here:

Posted by: Shannon at August 27, 2008 8:27 AM

I would try to keep it as simple as possible.

Death and dying alone has been a worry for me since I was very young. I lived with my grandmother for many years. She had a "saints" table where she would occasionally light prayer candles. On that table, she also had a photo of her daughter who died at the age of 11 of TB. I always thought I would die by the time I was 11. My grandmother's close watch of me and even closer watch between my 11th and 12th birthdays might have contributed to it. I've lived 30 years beyond when I thought I would die, so now it is the dying alone that is a worry. Why am I telling you all of this? I truly believe simple and honest is best with the children. Perhaps, I wouldn't have been as "old" at 12 as I am now at 41.

Posted by: Maria at August 27, 2008 8:37 AM

P.S. Mia's words to you broke my heart while reading.

Posted by: Maria at August 27, 2008 8:40 AM

My answer is ever living thing dies. But you are very young and won't die for a long time.

Posted by: jodifur at August 27, 2008 8:44 AM

If that was damn near impossible for me to read (and not just because of the celine dion sex tape reference) it must have been horrible for you to write...

I deal with it internally occasionally because my brother has a lot of health problems right now - and though he's 34, I hear my mom crying to me, "I don't want my kid to die..." and I know that the thought doesn't become any less devastating as the parent and child get older...

So I hope to hell my kids outlive me. I think it would crush me and tear me apart if anything happened to either one.

Posted by: Sarah at August 27, 2008 8:46 AM

man, these are questions that will rock the foundation of your soul when they come out of the mouths of your kids. i think you handled it well.

we've been having this conversation a lot at my house recently. my dad died last year when E was 3, B was 7 months. they both adore him but E especially, my parents had moved two blocks away from us right before she was born so they were very close. he'd been in the hospital with surgery complications and an unexpected unrelated illness. just as we thought he was getting better he abruptly and rather immediately took a turn for the worse. this was 6 months after her new born brother had just spent 7 weeks in the NICU. she knew something was up. she was asking a lot of questions. as gently as we could we told her the truth. sometimes people we love get sick and sometimes their bodies really really sick and they die. but no matter what they still love us. and it is certainly no ones fault as that question came up once. and that it's okay to be sad and it's okay to ask questions. and oh boy are there questions. we just answer them as they come. i can't tell you how many times i have swallowed my tears with a huge lump in my throat and answered questions that i can hardly deal with myself. one of the biggest things i've learned from all of this is that gentle honesty is the only way to get through it. and it's amazing what kids can process and be okay with. and more than anything it's how they see you handle these situations that matters more than how you answer the questions.

Posted by: jen at August 27, 2008 8:47 AM

I lost my father when I was just over 2 years old and this made me very pragmatic about death very early on.

I passed that on to my daughter (who is now 24 and a MORTICIAN - so maybe I did too good a job?)as we experienced the death of a great grandfather and an uncle when she was 3 and 5. I have always believed in the reality of death. I've also always believed in honesty with the kiddos but never answer more of the question than they ask. That's very important!

Posted by: daisy at August 27, 2008 8:49 AM

I hated this question when it came up with my son too, and I still dread answering it for my daughter. I subscribe to a medley of the Lion King "circle of life" and "God Loves You" method. I did tell him that all living things die, it is how nature works and what makes life so valuable... the fact that it ends. We talked about how important it is to be the best person you can be and to really love your life. But also stressed that dying is not something he has to worry about right now. No one is going anywhere anytime soon.

{hugs} Chris... these are the moments that make us realize that our hearts walk out in those little bodies into the world. It's what makes parenting wonderful and heartbreaking.

Posted by: varinia at August 27, 2008 9:11 AM

Handled it almost exactly the same way you did when it first came up. The boy was about Mia's age so it was an appropriate response at the time.

Then he lost both of his granddaddies within a year so we had to give him a bigger dose of reality. We told him that everybody dies, it's a natural part of life, but it's what we do while we are here that really matters. Even at six he seemed to reflect on what fun, positive, exceptional people his granddads were, and rather than becoming afraid of death, he was comforted by what they left behind.

Never had to fumble around discussing the afterlife or any of that mystery, either.

Posted by: Jeff St Real at August 27, 2008 9:30 AM

While I am by far no expert on children (and don't even have any of my own), I've heard that this book is an excellent way to deal with presenting death to kids:

Posted by: Arwen at August 27, 2008 9:31 AM

I read your blog, but never comment. This post hit me close to home. The Boy (my 5 year old) has been asking questions about death for almost a year now. It comes up much more than you would think. It was very difficult at first. (I am lying. It is still hard.) We just tell him that everyone/thing dies. That death is a part of life. We discuss with him our beliefs on the afterlife (we are Christian.) We tell him he doesn't have to worry about dying because it will probably not happen for a very long time. It comes up regularly now. I think it is his way of checking to be sure that we tell him the same thing. It happened at a good time in our lives because this year we have lost 1 cat, 2 aunts, and now a grandmother is close to the end. I am sorry to hear about your Cactus household having to deal with is something that I wished that I could make my boys (and me) never think about.

Posted by: gina at August 27, 2008 10:07 AM

Death cab for Elmo = awesome.

When my Mia was four, we were walking home from the park. She looked at me and said, "Daddy?" "Yes, Mia." "Who made all this?" She's waving her arms around. "What do you mean?" "Everything," she said. "Who made the world and stuff." We're in the middle of the street, so I say, "That's a big question. Why don't we talk about it when we get home." Mia says, "Okay. Can also tell me how you and Mommy made me?"

Posted by: Writer Dad at August 27, 2008 10:28 AM

Sadly, we had to deal with this issue over the summer.

MY FIL was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in April and was told that he was only going to live another 3-6 months. He ended up passing away two weeks ago.

Being that my Peanut is close to the same age as Mia, I was concerned about how to speak to her about death. I read a bunch of books and even had a few private consultations with some of Manhattan's top child psychologists.

At that age (between 3 and 4,) children cannot really fathom the concept of dying. When it comes to humans, they think dying is reversible. It's important to take the right approach with them.

When speaking of death, you should explain it to kids that when people die, their body stop working. They can't run anymore. They can't eat anymore. They can't play anymore.

You should NEVER say that death happens when you get sick or old. It only teaches children to freak out whenever YOU get sick. Or you tell that Grandpa is old. All they'll do is panic and think you're telling them that you're going to die. Several child psychologists told me of child patients who experienced bad nightmares whenever their parents got sick.

If you're religious, it's ok to talk about your beliefs with children of any age. In many cases, it helps children better cope with the concept of death.

Posted by: MetroDad at August 27, 2008 10:46 AM

That is a tough one which I stumble and bumble on over and over again

My son Max lost both his grandpop within a month of each other and it keeps coming up at the most awkward times.

Posted by: William at August 27, 2008 10:54 AM

It has come up here too, and we have been explaining it to our 4 year old daughter. She does worry when people get sick. I really don't think there is any way around that, as people who don't get hit by cars or bullets or die of old age do get sick before they die. Our kids are smart and they put this together fast no matter what you say. What you can do is be willing to have the conversation 400 times, be reassuring every time, and help them think it through. I do think the Lion King is good at this age. I hated having the conversation as much as you did, and I am a therapist who had done this with kids a lot. It doesn't matter. When it is your kid, it is incredibly hard.

Posted by: AmeliaB at August 27, 2008 10:57 AM

I sit squarely on the 'afterlife' side of the aisle, however, I don't buy into the heaven and hell theories that evangelists enjoy using for recruitment. It's all a matter of belief colored with a great deal of doubt and questioning that eventually turns into faith. This is nice for people who have had the time and experience to go through it, but kids...I don't know what or how exactly to tell explain it to them. You don't want to feed them dogma, but it's also not a good idea to tell them something that you take on faith and that they'll take as concrete fact.

To me, death is just another part of life. Who we are doesn't stop existing; I really do believe there's something else out there. As for heaven and hell, they exist here and within all of us. We make the choice everyday about where we are and what we endure. So, yeah...a little deep for someone only recently switched over to underwear.

Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' at August 27, 2008 11:07 AM

That's the mother-of-all-questions, Chris. I can't remember exactly how I answered it, but it was something like "Yes, but not for a very very long time, when you soul is done with your body." I can guarantee it won't be the last time the question is going to come up.

The harder one will be when she asks "Will you die?", followed by "Who will take care of me after you die?"

It was something that I think about even now. When my son is very old, and I am long since dead, I think about how he will need help getting up from a chair, or need help eating, and I won't be there to help him anymore.

I can only hope that I get him started and point him in a direction in his life that sets him on the right course to take care of him when I'm gone.

As for half full glasses, I've always felt the glass was completely full; half is water, half is air. You just need to recognize the resources that you have. :)

Posted by: Jon (was) in Michigan at August 27, 2008 11:38 AM

I think I already covered this when Mia questioned you about the cemetery a while ago.

Buddhists have quite a way to deal with death. It's in our teaching that death is a part of life. We know we'll be back in some form just to grow old, get sick, and die all over again. I don't recall being afraid to die, or afraid that my parents would die. It has always been just a part of life to me.

Personally, if, say I fall over after this post and die, I will have a few regrets of things I didn't get to do. But, again, a part of life. I'm living a good life, haven't done all that I can do but I wouldn't be dead and regretting it. I want to do so much more, but I won't be disappointed if I die right now. My life so far has been pretty good. :)

Posted by: oakley at August 27, 2008 11:47 AM

emily, at 2, was in the room when my grandfather died. she was so young but still had sooo many questions about death. it was so hard to try to explain these difficult concepts to her.

Posted by: ali at August 27, 2008 11:51 AM

That Mia is very astute... To put the concept of getting old and dying with HER aging? Brilliant little emo-toddler.

Posted by: GreenCanary at August 27, 2008 12:15 PM

Wow Chris. I mean yes, every parent comes to the point that they have to do some explaining about death sooner or later and the answers get more complicated the older they get I think. But writing about it is just as painful. Thinking about your kids' death is just not something that any parent wants to do. So we tend not to do it.

I guess I got to see both sides of it when Jason died. His parents lost their dream boy, the only son and their youngest child. His dad seemed to make some sense of it. His mom? She went off the deep end and really has never recovered.

Jason's daughter was seven when he died. For some reason, she seemed to understand it. Sure, there was panic and tears and confusion, but once we explained to her that daddy was no longer sick or unhappy, she got a huge smile on her face. She knew, as kids do, how miserable he had been and she was ecstatic that he didn't ever have to feel that was again. Sad for a seven year old to know that, but it made sense to her.

Sorry, I just wrote a whole post on your post.

Posted by: k8 at August 27, 2008 12:27 PM

Luckily, my kid's too young to deal with it just yet. But as for myself, I don't handle it well at all. As a kid, I used to have panic attacks when I thought about dying and I would run around the house in hysterics until my mother or father could contain me and get me calmed. Sometimes, late at night as I am trying to fall asleep, I think about it and feel like I could break down as I did then, when I was small. But I somehow find the strength to contain it.

Posted by: claire at August 27, 2008 12:58 PM

I think it depends on how you want to do it. Living with an estate attorney as a kid, we went to funerals a lot. I used to cry for the family, because I knew they'd miss the person who was gone. But if you are the person who is gone, you're either on another plane or you don't exist anymore (depending on your beliefs). So it's a transition on earth that doesn't affect the person who died, really, cos either they have a WHOLE bunch of other stuff going on, or can't be affected.

Losing one of my best friends when I was eight, that was awful. But by then, I got death. I also became a very angsty kid.

To Miss Mia, I'd just say that life is like a day. Everyone has to wake up and go to sleep, or we'd just be unhappy that the day lasted forever. We wouldn't feel good and we wouldn't be happy when good things happened anymore. Death is sad for other people, because we miss that person who died. We want to share the stuff that happens to us the days after they die. Those people miss us, too. But it's ok, because we have lots of days together now.

Posted by: alektra at August 27, 2008 2:01 PM


Okay, so I'm pessimistic. And I have panic attacks in the night sometime when I think about how I'm going to die one day. And cease to exist. I'd go into detail, but I might trigger one right now. So... no.

I wasn't raised religiously, so I almost... scoff... at people who think there's something after death?

But I wrestle with this idea, of what to tell children, and I don't even HAVE children. At one point I had decided that these mystical children were going to be religious... and hence not freaked about it all...

I think I justified that it was better that if the religion was wrong, they'd still be happier in the now. And if the religion was right, no skin off my back for them, if you will...

But then I stopped thinking about it. So I have no answered. Maybe you should ask my dad, who I freaked the fuck out on at eight with just this sort of thing.

I'm pretty sure he said the something along the lines of what you said to Mia.

Posted by: Caleal at August 27, 2008 2:03 PM

I deal with death as truthfully as I can, and whenever the conversation comes up, I remind myself constantly "answer all questions with a "yes" or "no" or "what do you think?" verses monologuing."

My oldest was around Mia's age when my grandmother, his beloved "GG", died. And he wanted to die so that he could be with her. I told him that one day, he would die. He asked "Tomorrow?" and I said "I hope not. I would miss you terribly." He said "I would miss you, too. Hey - have you seen my blue truck?" And I breathed a sigh of relief.

One of my best childhood friends died at 15 after a long fight with leukemia. Her parents had promised her she wouldn't die, which I remember even then thinking was a silly promise for a person to make. When the doctors explained to 15 year old Katie that there was nothing more they could do, she looked at her parents and said "you promised me I wouldn't die - you lied." She felt betrayed, and they felt guilty. That stuck with me.

Posted by: Mindy at August 27, 2008 2:39 PM

Jake's first experience with death came in grade six. In the span of 6 months he lost a beloved teacher to cancer, a counselor (who helped him through the first death) to a heart attack, and then his hamster.

It was horrible and took a lot of time, many deep discussions, and nights with me hugging him to get him through. I really felt like it was the end of his innocence, to be honest.

Posted by: Scattered Mom at August 27, 2008 2:41 PM

First: Death Cab for Elmo? PLEASE make that tshirt. I'd buy 4.

Second: You do exactly what you did. And when they're older, you get a little more philosophical. And when they're old enough to realize that gramma doesn't have a whole ton of time yet, you sugarcoat the hell out of it.

I've told my boys all the different thoughts on death: heaven, reincarnation, etc. I've let them choose their own belief. That seems to work the best for us.

Posted by: Mr Lady at August 27, 2008 3:29 PM

My personal opinion is that it's really important to talk to kids openly and honestly about death, but put in a context of being part of the natural order of things. Also, our loved ones who pass on never really leave us as they stay in memory and spirit. Tell Mia it's not something she needs to worry about or fear, but that it is simply a natural part of life that she won't (as parents we pray and hope) have to deal with for a very long time.

Then go watch the Lion King.

Posted by: jessica at August 27, 2008 3:52 PM

Death Cab for Elmo = hysterical.

It's not an easy one. I got more of a "what happens when we die, Zaen said we go to heaven."

Just keep it simple and honest. ('Heaven is a nice story, but it's not what your father and I believe.') I think that you answered the right thing. As she gets older, you can get more in-depth.

Posted by: Nat at August 27, 2008 4:39 PM

Both of my parents died in the same year, when my daughter was 3ish. For a good two years after that, she was absolutely obsessed with talking about what happened to them. Every day, she insisted we discuss their death. And why they died, and where did they go, and how did it happen and was I sad, and she was sad, and blah blah blah.

To say the least, it made my healing process a bit more raw than I care to even talk about. I am not particularly religious but I actually spoke to a minister about it, and he just said to keep answering the questions as honestly as possible and eventually she'd stop asking.

He was right. And she had no particular long-lasting death fascination although she is a college student now so anything's likely to happen.

Posted by: Candy at August 27, 2008 4:52 PM

When I was about five or six, I had a complete (and I mean like nuclear) meltdown when it occurred to me that I was going to die someday. You know when you're a kid and you remember your first ballgame, your first neighborhood friend -- events? I still remember those thoughts I had with that sort of vividness. I'm not sure what spurred it on. But my poor mother got the brunt of it: "What's the point of living if you're just going to die?" I actually remember saying, "I'm not sure I want to live anymore if I'm just going to die." It wasn't any sort of threat of suicide, that's just how I verbalized how unfair the whole thing was. But I'm sure that scared the heck out of my mom. Thinking back on those words now, I'm surprised I didn't get put into therapy.

Because of how vivid that memory is for me, I often wonder what I'll say to my kids if they meltdown like that on me. I think my mom handled it well, I remember we went on a long walk around the neighborhood and talked about how death brought meaning to life, heaven, reincarnation and a few other things. Ever since that talk, I haven't had much problem with death. Unfortunately, I don't remember the exact words, just the basic gist but she calmed me down. I wish I did remember, might come in handy with my own kids...

Either way, sans meltdown, I think you handled it great. I was a little beyond being calmed down without a full explanation.

Posted by: Garth at August 27, 2008 5:03 PM

With our daughter, it's usually a question of us dying rather than her dying, and we can often diffuse the situation by assuring her that our deaths are not imminent. (In other words, she asks us if we will die, and we tell her that we will not die for a very long time, and she seems content with that answer.)

Admittedly, it isn't a long-term solution, but it assuages her fears, and allows us to delay "the big talk" for when she's older and better prepared to handle it.

Posted by: SciFi Dad at August 27, 2008 5:31 PM

We were forced to talk about it with him when his grandfather died 2 years ago (he was 4). We explained it similarly to Beth (people get old, their body stops working), but also got some good overarching non-religious books that talk about missing loved ones, keeping them in your hearts, etc. He didn't quite get the concept that HE could die right away so I had a bit of time to prep for it, but when we talked about it I tried to reassure him that *most* people live to be old like Pop Pop. A combo of honestly and reassurance.

Posted by: Aimee Greeblemonkey at August 27, 2008 6:18 PM

There are many days that I'm bummed that I don't have kids - and then a topic like this comes up and I'm so very glad that I don't have to explain death (or sex - yikes).

I'd guess that the best approach is the one that you've already taken. Just keep going with your instincts.

Posted by: Mandy Lou at August 27, 2008 8:50 PM

I explained it to my kids matter-of-factly just like I do everything else. Of course, wording depends on the age of the child, but I'm a big fan of teaching the truth about life and death upfront and honesty. I knew absolutely nothing until I was 10 years old and my parents took me to the funeral home when my favorite grandfather died. Wanna say major trauma?

My kids have both been and will continue to go to funeral homes all the time and as often as possible...starting with just some random friend of a friend and distant great aunts who are 100 years old. We've visited graves, both of my friends and their paternal grandmother (who died before my youngest was born) and we discuss death whenever it is brought up. I figure, it's the one thing I can not stop from happening eventually no matter how over protective a mom I am, so I might as well prepare them for it.
AND I will never ever have them traumatized the way I was.

Plus, I have found, the more easily they have accepted death in their lives over the years, the easier it has been for me to accept as well.

Of course, the 6 year old has recently taken to guessing in which order the members of her family will die in, which is always good for a laugh...ahem...

Posted by: fauve at August 27, 2008 9:50 PM

Ooooosh. I think you have gotten lots of great advise. This culture of ours denies that we will ever die, which is why WE as parents have such an issue talking about it. Children will accept things easier when WE as parents are more comfortable with it. Parenting is not for sissies! Wait until the kids talk to you about touching themselves...I will NEVER forget that day...and trying NOT to show my discomfort with the topic. Whew... But be true to yourself...and then answer with your heart. And ONLY tell your kids you are willing to talk about anything only if you mean it! Grin

Posted by: Gypsy at August 27, 2008 11:32 PM

I have not had to do the dead thing too seriously yet but my two year old really doesn't understand who the man is with Mommy Daddy and Gramma in the family photo. I tell him it is Grampa and he thinks someone is trying to steal us or something. I have explained that it is my daddy and he is not around anymore and that he dies before Emmett was born - but a two year old just doesn't get it.

On the other hand I had my cousins 4 year old girl for a couple of nights and she found a dead bird on our deck (YUCK). She asked me if it "fucked up and picked the wrong direction to get into heaven". Um yeah, now I know how they talk in that house.....

Posted by: Sleepynita at August 27, 2008 11:59 PM

I always believe that you only give a child as much information as their intellect can actually process. I don't have any more problem with grandma went to live in heaven than I would with Santa is bringing the presents. That is enough. When my grandfather passed, my oldest was in pre-school. I told him that Papaw was sick and was going away and that we would not see him anymore, but that he still loved him very much. That's it. For a small child, that's enough. Then I left him with a friend and did not take him to the services because I didn't think the imagery of the graveside service could be explained in a way that wasn't just horrific for his little brain.

For the record, though, the sex talk was way harder than any of the death talks, which have had to be repeated as he grew older. The sex talk nearly killed me.

Oh, and thanks for the whole Celine Dion sex video thing. My inner child is now searching for a cliff in my mind to leap off.

Posted by: OS at August 28, 2008 12:21 AM

Just remembered this, a friend of mine who is a funeral director keeps an empty hermit crab shell for when she has to talk to children. She tells them that their loved one is like the crab and the shell is like their body. And the part of them that laughed and loved ice cream and gave bear hugs had gone away. The shell was all that was left behind. Not bad for that in between little kid and adolescent age . . .

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Posted by: Alisha at August 28, 2008 3:18 PM

Wow. Not being a parent, I get the crap scared out of me when other people's children say things around me about death and religion that require an answer and I have no idea what bent the parents in question have taken with said child(ren).

Posted by: Karen at August 31, 2008 7:24 PM