30 January 2015

Talking about death with a four year old

I have a four year old which means that I'm becoming adept at discussing things that I quite frankly have no idea about.  I'm also becoming dab hand at deflecting questions with conversations like the following not uncommon:

Her: "What is God?"
Me: "What do you known about theology, religion, philosophy and the like?
Her: "Ummmm...."
Me: "Exactly, we can finish this conversation when you know more about those"


Her: "Why do numbers matter?"
Me: "Great question little one, but if I tell you your Year 2 teacher will have nothing to teach you when you get there so let's leave it for her eh?"


Her: "Why aren't there more girl superheroes?"
Me: (Frantically thinking for good examples and realising that most of the women in superhero stories are villains or scantily clad which segues into a small brain fart about the misogynistic nature of comic books which I hadn't given much thought to until this very second and which comes out as....) "Great question sweetheart, let's ask Ms Fallon at school tomorrow"

But the interest in death I take really seriously.  Because death is part of life and while it's not an easy discussion I believe it's an important one to have as openly as possible.

"When do you die Mama?"

"When your body gets to the end of it's life sweetheart"

"When does that happen?

"Odds are when you're really old, but it's different for everybody"

"Older than Grandad?"


"Do kids die?"

"Sometimes darling, yes they do"


"When their body gets to the end of its life"

"And then what?"

"Well everybody gets together and talks about how great you are and how much they loved you."

"But what about the body? What do you do with the bits that you don't give to the doctors?"

Yes - we've had a conversation about organ donation previously. We describe it as when your body doesn't need something you can give it to other people who are sick, or to the doctors to learn more about bodies.

This bit about 'what about the body' is the bit I've found hardest to explain.  So I settled on this after a bit of thought and a few suitably vague answers which didn't satisfy her in the slightest:

"It depends sweetheart, but the two most common things to do are either bury them in a graveyard or cremate them. What happens then is a bit like what happens to a flower that falls off a tree after it's finished it's job being a flower, your body breaks down until it becomes part of the earth again.  Some people like to do that bit slowly so they choose a graveyard and others like to do it quickly so they choose cremation."

"But what about your dolls?"

"They absolutely go with you."

And we've wandered about a graveyard and looked at gravestones which she found incredibly boring, but which I have always found incredibly restful.  I always think that of all the things that we worry about - the graveyard shows that none of it matters in the end.

And we haven't had to go into conversations about what cremation is or how you get into a graveyard, she's okay with the broad concepts and I make it sound no more interesting or scary than talking about how owls smell.

I know that it is a bigger concept but in many ways, to her it is not.  It's another thought to be explored, another concept that she's fitting into place inside her brainbox and she pops it in to place between owls and why boys don't have babies. (She's sorted that on her own - the hole at the end of a willy is too small)

I don't say to her things like "don't worry that won't happen for a long time" when she asks if I might die or she might die. Because how the hell would I know what life has got in store for any of us? I'm not going make statements which are beyond mine to make. I just reply with something along the lines of "I hope not for a long time darling because we still have a lot of things to get done."

And she's okay with this.  I know that the conversations will get harder and more in depth and I'll have to be googling the shit out of the next level of questions that come up but in the meantime, it makes perfect sense to her that when your body finishes living, that's dead.

What about you? How do you approach the big questions in your house?

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