June 21, 2011

Death and All His Friends

Mommy, daddy, am I going to die?
Is Papa going to die?
What happens after we die? Do we come back?
Do kids die?

All of these questions came hurting towards us at terminal velocity from the back seat after Dick's funeral. They caught us off guard as did the emotion behind them. It shouldn't have been unexpected but it was. I have never seen Owen so completely upset, so obliterated, so incredibly sad. And since Beth and I a very honest with our kids, Mia decided to follow suit.

Owen, after you die you either get put in a box and buried under the ground or you get burned in the fire.

And the tears kept flowing. Justifiably so after that sisterly reassurance.

So we told him the truth without scaring him and when we finally got where we were going, we pulled him out of his car seat and give him the biggest hugs imaginable.

Mia is a sensitive kid about some things but she generally takes everything in stride. She dealt so well with the whole death thing, we were caught off guard by Owens line of questioning. Owen is like me and my dad - he wears his heart on his sleeve and sometimes that can hurt.

The truth is there are just some things we don't know. Combined with the fact that death is really one of those things grownups are trained to ignore, reassurance is hard.

Posted by Chris at June 21, 2011 6:52 AM

I'm nearly 53 years old and it is still hard for me.
Hugs to all the Cactus-Fish Family members.

Posted by: Maribeth at June 21, 2011 8:08 AM

Oh the poor little dude!! I don't know how I would have handled that one. Your Mia and my John are about the same age and thank god we haven't lost anyone so close in a while so I am hoping that conversation will be years away.
John still thinks his sister was born out of my belly button and is amazed that she came out of a hole only an inch in diameter. I kinda like it that way. These babies grow up too fast!

Posted by: Leanne at June 21, 2011 8:11 AM

I don't remember where I read this, but I thought it was an absolutely brilliant answer to the "What happens when we die" questions from kids. Actually as an adult, I kind of like it too.

Do you remember what it was like before you were born? Being dead is exactly like that.

Posted by: COD at June 21, 2011 8:20 AM

I had a similar experience with my kids after we had our dog put to sleep last year. I thought Elliot would be devastated, but he took it in stride. My daughter, who never really cared about the dog one way or the other, fell apart. I was totally unprepared for her reaction and it broke my heart that I hadn't done a better job of preparing her.

Poor Owen :(, but I'm sure you and Beth handled it well.

Posted by: Elizabeth at June 21, 2011 9:22 AM

Firstly, condolences on the loss of your uncle. Your description of the ceremony at Arlington was very moving.

And for Owen, yeah, poor guy. I completely understand. It sounds like you guys are helping him through it wonderfully. (And Mia's description... well. What can you say? It's true. Ha.) We've had many of these conversations since my grandfather died last fall, but I was really glad that our first experience was with someone so old. We have relied on the "when we get really really old, our bodies wear out. It happens to everyone" story thus far, but they haven't started asking about whether it can happen to kids. OY. But my 5 year old had a total breakdown a few nights ago, thinking about *me* dying. And she doesn't want me to die. She was hysterical for no reason. I have no idea where this came from, and man, that was a hard one to talk her through.

Posted by: Sabrina at June 21, 2011 9:46 AM

No two kids are the same and it's never easy, even for adults.

Posted by: ann adams at June 21, 2011 11:17 AM

Death was odd in my family. Most of our family was in Virginia. When there was a death--my mother went solo and never allowed us to go. It never seemed real and there was no closure.

I didn't attend my first funeral until I was in my late 20s.

I am surprised at Owen's reaction given his age, but everyone is different. My 15 year old son obsesses over getting married, how old his parents are and expectations of how long we might live. As an only child, I feel the idea of loosing us seems somehow bigger in his mind.

I am constantly telling my son, we believe in this, but many people believe otherwise.

Posted by: One Mom's Opinion at June 21, 2011 6:06 PM

As parents, most of us are somehow able to construct answers to difficult questions such as those Owen posed that provide them with answers, yet comfort them. My niece was 2.5 years old when my dad (her Papa) died suddenly, and she took it all in stride, and somehow, seemed to understand. Her questions were more like, "Why did Papa have to go help Jesus?" or "Why is Papa in the sky?"

And we swear he visits her and has conversations with her. She is always talking about him and telling us that he says he is OK. I've never been 100% sure about buying into the theory that those who have passed can come back and communicate with us, but I can't refute the things she comes up with. Some of the stuff she says is just not something she can concoct on her own.

But, it is funny how your own kids can be so different -- Mia takes it in stride, and Owen flips out... Guess it's their job to keep ya on your toes! ;o)

Posted by: ironic1 at June 21, 2011 9:41 PM

I love that you guys are so honest with your kids. Coming from a huge family, with a mom as a nurse, death and funerals were normal to me growing up. I attended a lot of funerals as a kid - grandparents, great aunts and uncles, etc. And my parents explained it to us much like it seems you guys do.

As an adult now, I am grateful for that experience because it is easy(ish) for me to accept that death is simply a part of life.

Kids are resilient, but I'm sure the scene with Owen was hard. It's amazing to me how people from an early age react so differently to things.
And this whole thing reminds me of when my uncle died. My cousin was 4 and my aunt tried to explain to him that his uncle had died. As his 6 year old sister was having a tearful meltdown about it (totally understandable), he thought about it for a bit, then said "I'm sorry your best friend died. I'll kiss your heart." and gave her a big hug. I think about that often in these situations -- it's just so sweet and comforting to me. Kids are amazing. (Speaking of which - loook at Mia! What a big girl she is now! Go Mia, Go!)

PS - I also subscribe to the idea that being dead is like being not-yet-born, that you don't remember what it was like before you were born and that's what death is like too.

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