Monday, December 27, 2010

The Death Talk

Last night, I was reading Isabella a bedtime story and one of the characters was a mouse. She said she wanted to see a real live mouse and I casually mentioned that I used to have a lot of mice when I was a kid, and I named a few of them. She asked me what happened to them, and I said, well, mice don't live very long, only about two years- so they all became old mice and they died.
Why did they die? She asked, looking intensely at me with those big blue eyes- uh oh-
Well, I said, everyone that is born eventually dies.
Now, I guess you can get to the ripe old age of 4 1/2 and not realize that you are mortal- and apparently this was the case with Isabella.
"You mean, I'm going to die?"
Oh, crap, I thought. This is a horrible conversation to have- but a necessary one.
Then she looked at me.
"And you- you're going to die? I don't want to die! I don't want you to die!"
And then the crying began.
I soothed her by saying most people live until they are very old before they die and then it is okay for them to die and that she would probably live for a very long time.
Apparently, she thought people only died violent deaths when they were bad guys-oh television, you can really warp things-
I can't really recall that I have ever had this conversation with another child of mine. I mean, I probably did, but I was at a loss suddenly of how to handle this. You would think after five children, I would be better at explaining things but those innocent eyes looking at you can destroy all confidence. I was ruining her perfect bubble.
I remember when my oldest child was about six and the man who cut our lawn, Henry, a really nice man but a very old man, when he died, I remember telling my son and he was pretty upset because he really liked Henry, but he understood pretty well what death was and the finality of it. I cannot myself remember what it was like to discover things die, people die.
I remember discovering sex, the great secret of what it was. It never bothered me to destroy that mystery for my children, because it can be a dangerous mystery, keeping children in ignorance about their bodies and how they function. I always tried to explain it tenderly and in age appropriate detail. It has always been important to me to try to answer my kid's questions to the best of my ability and not to lie to them about the important stuff.
Still, I felt wrong saying I wasn't going to die very soon. I don't know that. None of us know. I tried to explain that none of us really know when we are going to die and it's a great mystery but most people live long lives.
She said "Unless we get stabbed by a really long sword."
Hmmm, this is true.
I'll happily create a wondrous world with fairies and Santa Claus and unicorns and far away lands- but lying to her about death was impossible. I didn't really want to tell her about Heaven either. It bothered me because it seemed like I was just saying that to make her feel better and although I wanted desperately to make her feel better, the thought of telling her that to take the sting off reality was just a band aid for an innocence I had inadvertently destroyed. Sigh. This was much worse than the sex talk. Maybe because sex is a creator and not a destroyer, just generally speaking. I tried to think of anything really positive about death- well- it does end pain if someone is really sick and suffering.
But that isn't really appropriate discussion with a four year old. Gah!
So, you know, I told her I would always be with her in her heart, which is something I can believe in- and wherever I was after death, I would always love her. Because I believe love transcends death and all the people that have died and been a part of my heart are still with me.
She's a smart kid. I think she will understand that concept. Anyway, she stopped crying and I gave her extra hugs.

1 comment:

Robert said...

I remember having that same conversation with my grandmother when I was about four years old. I wonder if you ever get over it...