Random header image... Refresh for more!

The Conversation I Never Wanted to Have

children mentioned…

The ChickieNob has been skirting ever closer to the question of death as she goes through an existential crisis that would make Sartre jump into the postmodernist abyss. The questions come fast and furious for twelve straight hours every day: why do people get old? what happens after someone turns 100? can we ever go back to being a baby? why does the flower get shrivelly after you pick it? will you always be my mommy? will you always be here? will I always be able to see you? where are all of the dinosaurs now? what happens when a person disappears? will you ever disappear? why are you little only for a short time and then old forever and ever?

The Wolvog, on the other hand, does not seem ready for these heady topics and only wants to discuss the iPod Touch, Audis, and how many times he needs to make in the potty before he gets another model car.

Sometimes, she stands so close to the edge that the wind could push her over. In one line of questioning, she asked about the people who live with my grandmother in the nursing home and where my grandmother lived when she was little and as we moved closer and closer to the question, I could see that she wasn’t really ready to know. Her voice trailed off as she said, “but Grandma S doesn’t have a mommy living there with her. Where’s her…why did you buy me a pink My Little Pony?”

“Because I love you and knew you would like it,” I answered, still waiting for the real question.

But it never came.

There is a sadness to her questioning and if I had bigger balls, I would have had a quiet conversation with her yesterday afternoon after her brother fell asleep. I could still hear her quietly playing with her stuffed animals in bed while her brother slept. I could have lifted her silently out of the room, brought her into mine, quietly stroked her head while I asked her to tell me what has been on her mind lately.

But I didn’t.

And it all goes back to being ball-less.

The fact is that I don’t know how to broach these topics that scare the shit out of me as an adult. I have reoccurring loss dreams–I obviously haven’t neatly tucked away my own existential crisis. I have dreams where people I love are falling off a sheer cliff, farther and farther away from me without any way to undo the moment. I think my Scandinavian Studies degree fucked with my head with all of their talk about falling into dark, deep, unending pits of despair.


I believe that children ask questions when they’re ready to hear the answers. Sometimes, out of circumstances, you need to foist information on them before they’re ready, but barring that, I think that the questions will naturally percolate out of their mouth when they’re ready to ingest the possible answer. I think she knows full well that something scary and sad happens later in life, but until she asks the question, perhaps she’s not truly ready to know.

The problem, of course, is knowing how to explain it when the question does come. I’ve read some articles on speaking to children about death. I’ve used the term “n’shama” with them which sort of translates as soul. Not to get all Jew-y on you yet again, but I guess you need to understand this to see how I thought I’d explain it. Hebrew has three terms that all mean soul or spirit but they are used differently. Nefesh is the soul at the most basic level. I think of it as the functioning of the brain, either you’re living or you’re not and if you are, you have a nefesh.

Ruach is more of an emotional word. It’s spirit, but it’s what we’d probably call in English a ghost. Perhaps that’s not quite right. But the word is connected to the word for wind. Does that make more sense? The life breath? But ruach sort of has a volume control–it can be loud or soft–sort of like the wind. It can be a gentle breeze or it can be a hurricane.

But the word that I was going to use one day to describe death is n’shama. It also means spirit but I always think of it as what makes you…You. It’s your soul, your personality, why you laugh at certain jokes and not at others, why you cry when certain commercials come on, why you like the beach more than the mountains, why you fell in love with that particular person, why you want to be a mother. It is the part of you that is open to experience, that is listening, that is taking in new information. It is all of the traits you are born with and all of the traits you choose to acquire–consciously or subconsciously–over the course of your life.

A person will still look like the person without their nefesh or ruach. Not moving, but still the same. But I think they may one day understand that without a person’s n’shama, they no longer exist. Without my n’shama, I wouldn’t be Melissa. It’s an essence that can’t be recreated, it can’t be contained, it can’t be captured in full, and it can’t be helped by an outside force.

It is what makes it so special and precious and also what makes it so heartbreaking to discuss.

The thing is that once they know, they can never go back to not knowing. And right now, the world looks very different from reality. How can I be the one who shatters that? It is one thing if circumstances decide the timing, but it is another to choose it, to say the words, to put the ideas into their heads, to let them know.

I just don’t want to do that to them.

As much as I joke that the Wolvog isn’t spiritually minded, apropos of nothing, he looked at me while I cut his nails over the toilet and said, “thank you for doing a good job watching me near water. I don’t want to drown.”

You and me both, babe.

Does he truly understand what drown means? Does he sense that it creates something final? And what does final mean to a four-year-old?

The ChickieNob was crying at breakfast one morning that she didn’t want to get old. Josh took out a box of goldfish and set four on the table and said, “that’s you.” Then he counted out 36 of them and pointed to the pile, “that’s me.” Then he counted out 93 of them and set them on a separate napkin. “That’s Grandma S.”

And then, that night, as we got ready for bed she said, “do you know where you buy more goldfish? Can you buy more goldfish? We need more of them.” And even though I knew that we had a Costco size box of goldfish, even though I knew it would take us several months to eat through the goldfish we already have, that statement is just her toeing the edge, peering off the cliff, asking for more time. And it breaks my heart to look down into the abyss with her. To know that it works both ways. There will be a day that she loses me and there will be a day that I lose her. And while I know it can’t go any other way and that there are a lot of goldfish in this lifetime, so to speak, it is still exquisitely painful to sit with that thought. Writing about it has certain brought out several rounds of tears.

But is it scarier to know that the abyss exists or is it scarier to sense that there is a void out there and not know where it is or how one falls in or what falling in even means? I think both sides are pretty damn scary.

Would you draw out the question or wait for it to be asked? And once it is broached, what would you say? Would you tell the full truth or would you make promises you can’t keep? And how do you teach a four-year-old to squeeze that truth to the back of her mind so that she doesn’t turn into a mini Camus?

I do promise to come back and write the conversation once we have it in case anyone wants to either take what we said or run screaming in the opposite direction.


1 Tash { 10.29.08 at 5:36 am }

Well, obviously my situation is different, but I wait for the question. And I stay there as long as she needs, and then I let her change the subject.

Here’s the thing though: Having talked death with a toddler from 2.5-4, I can tell you that there’s a few different discussions, and a few different levels going through their head. There’s the “what’s dead” conversation, the “when am i/are you going to die,” dialog, and finally, the “what happens next?” metaphysical mindf*ck. We’re in stage two. I’ve found for my own sanity it’s healthy to stick to what is asked. They’ll get around the next part when they’re good and ready.

You’re lovely to have these conversations. I know a lot of moms who think they’re really grim and weird and shut them down. Obviously we can’t, but it’s nice to hear other people tackle them on their children’s terms when they’re ready to hear. Good for you.

2 Anjali { 10.29.08 at 5:49 am }

I am totally and completely stumped by this as well. We lost a dear friend suddenly last year (he was only 35) and neither my husband or I could figure out how to talk about it with our kids, so we avoided it altogether. We were worried they’d worry something would happen to us.

They also don’t know about my miscarriages. I don’t even know how to talk about this with kids, yet at the same time, I feel like I am lying to them by not telling them.

Perhaps I’ll wait until they’re a little older.

3 N { 10.29.08 at 6:44 am }

This post makes me want to go to services with you.

Regardless, obviously I haven’t had to encounter this with children of my own, but my youngest cousins were quite young when my grandmother, then my brother, then my grandfather died. And there were a lot of questions. Even having gone through that, I’m not sure what’s right, or fair.

It’s a scary thing, for everybody.

4 loribeth { 10.29.08 at 6:58 am }

No kids here, but many of the parents in our pg loss support group have had to deal with questions about death from their other children after their losses. I think the important thing is, as Tash says, not to overload them with too much information that they're really not ready for yet — to just answer the specific question & then wait for the next one.

I found a children's book by Maria Shriver (yes, THAT Maria Shriver) called either "What's Heaven?" or "Where's Heaven?" about a little girl (older than ChickieNob)whose great-grandmother passes away, & the questions she asks and what her mother tells her. (Maria apparently wrote it for her daughter after her grandmother, Rose Kennedy, died.) I thought it was well written & it's beautifully illustrated.

I can remember becoming aware of death when I was about ChickieNob's age, after our dog — whom we'd decided to let my grandparents keep on their farm — got run over. I also have another memory fragment, from around the same age, sobbing that I didn't want to die, & my mother trying to sooth me & telling me the streets of heaven were paved with gold. I'm not sure how that was supposed to comfort a pre-schooler & I dont' remember what else she said, but I guess the message was that death wasn't to be feared.

I'm sure you'll find the right words!

5 angrycanrn { 10.29.08 at 7:21 am }

That is a tough one.

But, having been in the position to HAVE to have that conversation… I would vote to let her bring it up when she is ready. Tash is right. This converstation occurs in stages and every child is different. I also think that sometimes even though one stage has been covered, the child might go back to it for one reason or another.

I wish I had a little time to prepare before taking this discussion on with my kids. There are things that I would have done differently. For example, I told them that “Daddy got sick and went to heaven” (paraphrasing obviously). Now if I even cough my daughter gets concerned that I am “sick”.

Sorry just rambling…..

Good luck.

6 Patricia { 10.29.08 at 7:33 am }

I remember several of my own moments of peering over the edge, of asking a thousand questions of my mom.

They all began with When I get big and you get little…

I didn’t have a concept of death and so my mind instituted a form of recycling. I thought there was an inverse rule that as I aged, my mom would get younger until we met in the middle somewhere and then passed each other in the opposite direction. I would then be the mom and she would be the child. Yeah, a therapist’s dream.

I remember so many of these conversations that I now really wonder what was going through her mind at the time. Did she consider helping me find my way through the questions or was the “cuteness” of the whole thing her idea of a harmless childhood question. Methinks it was the latter. And yet I’m stuck with wishing she would’ve helped me through it in some way.

Mostly as I read your post (and I just know I’m going to butcher the grammar here, I’m sorry) I kept thinking one thing…

The n’shama that is Mel… is so very beautiful.

7 Spicy Sister { 10.29.08 at 7:39 am }

no thoughts on the appropriate whens and hows of this conversation, just an observation that my heart ached reading this. I still have that 4 year old inside asking those same questions, begging for more goldfish. I wish my mother had had the capacity to allow my questioning to permeate her heart and soul the way you have with your daughter. Now, it feels up to me to be the adult to that 4 year old inside who is still terrified of that great and sad separation. I loved your explanation of the three words and concepts of spirit/soul. Wow, just wow.

8 Jendeis { 10.29.08 at 8:13 am }

This is a tough one. I once had this conversation with Fairy Godmother (course, I was 17 at the time, so a little different), concerned that I would fall apart when she died. She told me that love always lasts, it doesn’t need people to keep it going, so no matter if she was alive, her love for me would still be.

Back to the toddler level, is there any way to get the episode of Sesame Street where Mr. Hooper passes away? That always made sense to me.

9 Sassy { 10.29.08 at 8:29 am }

I’ve got a gorgeous book from when I was young called Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie that explains the concept of death without getting scary or depressing. It might be a gentle way to answer her questions without her needing to think it through herself.

Found it on Amazon –

10 Wordgirl { 10.29.08 at 8:37 am }

I love the way you explain the different levels of soul.

This is a difficult one for me because loss came early and rather dramatically into my life — but the way I’ve approached it with W is to answer the questions as they came — because he knew my father died when I was so little that alone opened questions — and they would come out of seemingly nowhere — and I just answered them as they came — as simply as I could.

Beautiful post, and so bittersweet. Your children are so lucky to have you as a mother.



11 Tara { 10.29.08 at 8:59 am }

I know it’s not the same but here’s how I relate: I remember when I was a wee one and I started to piece together that maybe, just possibly, Santa Claus might not be real. I thought about it a LOT and finally realized that there was a darn good chance that there was no such thing… Still wasn’t quite ready to know FOR SURE.

It took a long time for me to finally ask and when I did he, told me the truth. I felt very sad and upset that Santa wasn’t real. Not because of the presents and such but because now I felt like I had passed through a gateway and could never go back.

So even though I had the idea in my head already and was pretty sure of what was really going on – I think I would have been really hurt and very sad if my dad had told me before I actually asked the question – and was ready to hear the answer. I am glad that he waited until I actually asked.

I know it’s not nearly the same thing but it is something that has stuck in my head forever.

12 Alicia { 10.29.08 at 9:01 am }

My 5 year old daughters first experience with death was her hamster. “Buddy” died of old age. I wrapped him in tissue paper and put him in a little box. Then I asked V if she knew what happens when people get really old? She responded “they die”. I explained as best I could the life expectancy of a hamster and she responded “then he’s an old Grandpa hamster.” I said yes, she asked “did buddy die” I said yes. “What do we do now? We bury him in the ground. “Can I help?” Yes. “Will he go be with Jesus?” Yes.
Just this month our dog “Angel” of 13 years died. I was grateful for the previous conversation I had had about death with V pertaining to “Buddy.” We have been telling her for some time now that “Angel” was getting old. When the time came to tell her about our dog she cried but showed understanding. We brought her to the burial of the dog that loved her from the day she was born. She’d drawn a picture of her feelings and put it in the grave. Then she helped place the final stones on the grave site. I think every child deals with death differently. You know your child, you will know when they are ready. Sometimes circumstances give you no choice. I feel that telling the truth about death to your children is important. I feel it was good to let her see us grieve, and to grieve herself. V likes to tell perfect strangers “our dog Angel died, and now she is Jesus’ dog, Dad says Jesus is happy to have her back.” This is usually followed by “Mom, can we go to the ranch and visit Angel? I found her a pretty new rock.” Yes.

13 Fertilized { 10.29.08 at 9:58 am }

Ugh, this topic is not one I have ever thought about much, but reading your words have left me teary eyed. I want to go find and send you more goldfish for your household now too.

After much thought, I think I agree with the others that suggested go with her questions and answer truthfully in a way that does not make promises that you know you cannot keep w/o overwhelming her with information. I like the book suggestions also. Everything just seems better when a book is involved for me.

Your explanations of the different terms for soul were very interesting. I just love learning about cultures and religions of all types.

Good luck with this discussion with Chickennob

14 luna { 10.29.08 at 10:19 am }

this is so beautiful and touching. this one’s going to sit with me awhile. must be the mini camus in me. seriously though, I think you should submit it as an essay for publication. the themes and dilemma are universal, and your wise and gentle insight and explanation are just so perfect.

I imagine it must be difficult to sit there with her and peer into the abyss together, but how lovely that she gets to hold her hand…

as for how to handle it, I can’t know yet, but tash’s approach seems wise (and tested, sadly).

15 Kristin { 10.29.08 at 11:09 am }

One of the best ways of explaining death and the separation of our soul from our body had to do with a butterfly. You explain how when a caterpillar changes into a butterfly, the part that makes it what it is stays the same but the shell it is housed in changes. You can then explain that is similar to what happens when someone dies…their soul or what makes them who they are still exists, it is just no longer in the shell of the body.

I know there is actually a children’s book using this idea but I can’t remember the name.

16 Vintage Mommy { 10.29.08 at 11:27 am }

My daughter is seven, but when she was 4-1/2 I had to tell her that her birthfather had died. I actually talked to a psychologist first, b/c I was so worried about it.

She looked at me silently with one of those stares that goes right thru you; it was unnerving.

Then she said “well we’ll always remember him because I have my adoption story book” and she got it out and we looked at the pictures while I tried not to sob.

I think you’re doing fine – better than fine. I’ve always heard that you answer the question asked, and no more. She’ll come back to you when she’s ready and you’ll be ready too.

17 Jen { 10.29.08 at 11:47 am }

I’d wait for the question and make sure that is the question she is asking. You know, like that story of the little girl who asks her mom what sex is and then just wants to know if she is an M or an F. But it sounds like she’s close. And it sounds like you are ready to explain it to her. (Well, maybe not all the way mentally, but your answer sounds perfect.) You’ll do great at telling her what she needs to hear.

18 nonlineargirl { 10.29.08 at 12:13 pm }

Unless I was facing some MOMENT (the death of a loved one, say) I would definitely wait for the child to be interested (as indicated by her questions).

Your discussion of the meanings of a soul is very interesting and I can not imagine my 3 year old being ready for that yet. When she is, I hope I will be as mindful as you are being about offering information and solace without sugar-coating things.

19 merseydotes { 10.29.08 at 12:37 pm }

Petunia turned 5 last week, and we have talked death many many times. It makes my husband uncomfortable, but all the experts say to make it no big whoop. So that is what I try to do. I also try to answer *the question that is being asked*. It is hard to put yourself back into the mindset of a four year old since you know all the other questions a simple one will beg, but – as a previous commenter said – they will ask THOSE questions when they are ready.

In our house, death means that your body stops working. That is it, for now. I have explained, when asked, that we believe someone’s soul goes to heaven to live with God and the saints (we are Episcopalian), but on the most basic level, I emphasize that dead = body not working.

I like that definition because it will not be incompatible in the future with more indepth discussions about soul, afterlife, etc, and it makes very clear what has happened. “No, Wesley’s mom can’t come to church anymore because her body stopped working – she died. Her body can’t walk or talk or see or lift things or smile, etc.” It seems to satisfy my preschooler’s basic questions about death. It also doesn’t sound scary or gory or sad or maudlin. I figure, Petunia has the rest of her life to assign emotions to death, and it will happen as people (or pets) around us die. No need to tell her what she will feel when the time comes, but I’ll happily talk to her about it now if she asks.

20 Lori { 10.29.08 at 1:09 pm }

I love learning Hebrew with you.

I most definitely will only tell the truth. If it’s not true, I will find a way to not say it.

(For example, I would not say, “I’ll never die.” Instead, I’d say, “My plan is to get you good and grown up and give your kids their first baths like Grandma did for you and go to their weddings and watch YOU give YOUR grandchildren their first baths. That’s my plan.”)

I think that, like adoption and like sex, the more matter-of-fact I can be (which requires ME to be somewhat comfortable with the subject, or to be able to fake it), the less traumatized/conflicted they will be.

“Yes, people die. It’s the natural, beautiful course of things. It’s what makes being alive now so special. Now, let’s go make cookies.”

As I write, I realize how simplistic I sound. But I was going for simple.

Can’t wait to hear your conversation. I *heart* your sweet kids.

21 Cara { 10.29.08 at 1:42 pm }

Ahhh- yet another cosmic sized question from the Sirrup Queen.

We are frank here. They ask, we answer, clearly and without dummying down the terminology.

Still, my kids don’t seem sad the way I thought they might. They just celebrate her in all the abstract glory we are able to provide.

22 Erin { 10.29.08 at 2:48 pm }

We wait for our kids to ask the questions, but will sometimes make somewhat-pointed statements or observations if a good teaching opportunity comes up. Still, we wait for them to ask–because we feel like if they are old enough to ask, they’re old enough to hear the honest answer.

That doesn’t mean everything. We’ve learned a lot about how to use age-appropriate truth by learning about how to answer adoption-related questions, but it applies to pretty much everything. We use words that the kids will understand and only cover a few simple points each time. If they’re ready for more, they will ask another question. It helps us judge where they are.

23 Kate { 10.29.08 at 3:13 pm }

I haven;t even thought about this conversation. It’s funny – everyone worries about talking to their kids about sex, but things like this are MUCH harder.

24 annacyclopedia { 10.29.08 at 3:13 pm }

This is so lovely, Mel. And it made me fall a little more in love with the ChickieNob, if that were possible…

I don’t think you need any help at all. It sounds like you’re doing beautifully. And you’re not being ball-less at all. Au contraire! I think you’re showing huge ovaries (in the good way, not the OHSS way) by letting her guide this process of questioning.

For me, although I have limited experience with such conversations with children, when I have had very deep emotional conversations with kids I’m close to, I try to do exactly what you describe – let them guide the conversation in terms of content, length, etc. And I also try to be a mirror to what they’re feeling and give their emotions a name in a simple, clear way, letting them confirm whether what I’ve offered resonates with them. And I always tell the truth, as hard as it is.

The only suggestion I would have would be for you to spend some time sitting with these questions yourself, to get really clear on what your fears are and the parts that are difficult for you, and the ways that you find peace with those parts, or at least enough peace to go on living your life without the void taking over. I’ve found I’m at my best in those conversations when I really know my own heart, and don’t have to deal with my own issues and the child’s issues all at the same time.

You are a wonderful mother to think so deeply about this and to respond to her with such compassion. May you find a way to have the conversation that you both need.

25 Io { 10.29.08 at 3:15 pm }

I have no idea what to say, and it looks like above commenters have covered it, but I just wanted to say that I love it when you get all Jew-y.

26 annacyclopedia { 10.29.08 at 3:16 pm }

Oh, and I LOVE IT when you get all Jew-y on me. LOVE. IT.

27 bleu { 10.29.08 at 4:45 pm }

Bliss began asking about it about a year and a half ago I guess. Because of my own beliefs I think it was not too bad for me but did take me by surprise. I also got a Thich Nhat Hanh book for children and talked about reincarnation and death for a few days on and off then he let it go a while but seems to pick it up every few months. Back then the hard part for me was when he asked that we could always come back as mama and Bliss. I choked up so much but answered yes we could. Maybe I should have been more open about it but could not.

He has also brought it up when asking about my parents and his grandparents and if they are alive. I am very honest about my parents to him and he seems sad for me but ok with it.

He also asks about MY grandparents who have all passed. I tell him so and he sometimes gets more in depth from that line of questioning. It is a deeply intense conversation inside of me any time he brings it up but I try to keep it all about being part of life for him.

Good topic btw.

28 Paz { 10.29.08 at 7:24 pm }

I would never draw it out, never ever, ever. Innocence is one of the most beautiful gifts we get in life, and it is so fleeting.

Once the question is asked, I would answer it gently. When the soft answers don’t work any longer, she’ll ask in a way that tells you that she is ready.

I like the way you handled it. I respect that you were thoughtful, not fearful nor lazy, in your purposeful decision to … to spare her what we all know.

Good job mama. (um, you are NOT 36, are you?? I swear I thought you were sort of 29! In fact, I still do!)

29 battynurse { 10.29.08 at 8:43 pm }

I have no idea what I would say to the question but as far as your question I think I would wait until she asks it.

30 momofonefornow { 10.29.08 at 10:17 pm }

I wish I had the answer for you.

My beans papa died when he was 2 1/2. It was so hard because he didn’t understand anything. The day of the funeral, as we are driving away from the cemetery, my bean started screaming and reaching toward the window. I asked him what was wrong and he told me that we were leaving papa there in his tube and we had to go back and get him. I cried the whole way home. I know that I did a terrible job of explaining things to him. Not one of my proudest parenting moments.

So, it is a good thing that you are thinking about it now. Being prepared can’t be underestimated.

31 Cassandra { 10.29.08 at 10:59 pm }

Incredible post — even more thought-provoking than usual.

Wait for it to be asked.

Never make promises you can’t keep — if not full truth, enough truth for the time being (just as when you have the Birds and Bees talk, you give less detail to younger kids).

In all likelihood, the current crisis and line of questioning is a phase. Next week she might move onto the stars, or sea life, or the iPod. She is four years old, and it is her job to ask a million Why? questions. Hopefully there will be a different focus soon. If I’m wrong and death sticks around, come back to me and I’ll revise my answer.

You are raising some great minds, Lolly.

32 Deathstar { 10.30.08 at 10:10 am }

I had no idea explaining death to a child was so difficult. When my friend’s child asked me where my dog was (she really liked him), right after we spread his ashes, I had no idea as to what to say. I was surprised to see her her little head swivel around when I gave her the standard Buddhist answer (he’s everywhere, all round us.) Sheesh! I’ll get it one day.

Your way is so much better.

33 nancy { 10.30.08 at 12:36 pm }

strange to read this today …

Just this morning, I explained to my 3 and 4 year old the two ways dead bodies are “disposed” of. Burying and cremation. I showed them the remains of our last 2 kitties, letting them feel the bag od ashes. I pointed out the cemetary we always pass and explained what was really there.

My husband stopped at home and the 4 year old explained “when mommy dies, we’re going to set her on fire and throw her ass in the ocean.”

Using ass instead of ash made it all the better story.

34 Feliz Dianne Flutter { 10.30.08 at 1:04 pm }

You are such a caring person. Two weeks ago, I went to a memorial for all the children who passed away at a Children’s hospital in my area. There were many grieving.

At the end they read a story that explained death very well. I unfortunately can’t remember the name and the story was non-religious. It spoke of what the character left behind (how he touched everyone) and how he will be missed. It was regarding a badger. I hope it helps.

Wishing you well.

35 Natalie { 10.30.08 at 6:27 pm }

I don’t really recall ever having a conversation with my parents. I’m sure I must have, but I don’t recall. And being an Athiest I guess I won’t really have much to offer my children in the way of explanations. Death is life, life is death. Here and there, then and now. I guess I’ll just tackle it when it comes.

There are some things that dog- and cat-parents never have to deal with. Metaphysical questions is one of them.

36 B { 10.30.08 at 9:56 pm }

I think death is a difficult thing to talk about in the abstract.

When my daughter died my little friend Ruby (3) wanted to talk to me about death all the time. She would play dead baby games with me which was confronting to say the least but I understood it as her way of trying to make sense of what had happened.

She was most disturbed by the concept of burial. Her dead baby games went like “the baby is dead. Let’s put it in the garbage.” or “let’s put her in the mud” she would then laugh because she was desperate for reassurance that it was a joke. That we would do no such thing as put a baby in a box and bury it in the ground. Somehow, I feel that if she participated in the rituals of death she would have been more Ok with it. She would have seen how sacred it was and how much love their was – even in death.

I think (when the moment comes) participation in rituals is so so important, even from an early age. I also think seeing people who have died is really important.

I feel so strongly that most western rituals cut us off from death in a way that is detrimental to our understanding of life. The electric curtain of a crematorium vs the burning pyre beside the Ganges. The astro turf being pulled over a grave vs kneeling in the dirt throwing handfuls over your loved one. In Australia there is rarely a viewing of a dead body. We say goodbye to a box.

I was really struck by a part in the movie Ten Canoes where an aboriginal man has been speared with a “magicked” spear. He is marked for death. And he dances his death. It’s not a dance “of” death, it is not dancing “in the face of death” or “in spite of his death”. It was his death, and when he could dance no more his family took over and danced his death until he died.

I was struck by how fearless it was.(although to even say that would be wierd from their point of view)

Death was not seperated from the living.

And as wise Lori says, surely understanding this is what makes life so beautiful and precious.

37 midlife mommy { 10.31.08 at 11:46 am }

Unfortunately, my daughter and I had to talk about this way sooner than I had hoped, because I lost my precious mother last September (a fact that I still haven’t quite accepted). I will probably write about what it has been like to have these discussions, but I’m just not ready yet, I guess.

38 Bea { 11.02.08 at 6:20 am }

Ah. Gosh. And when they snigger about “tricky” questions kids ask, they always jump straight to sex.

I have no idea. I think I would wait til asked. Or I might go out and buy a very short-lived pet. A mouse, or something. Well, they’re all pretty short-lived when you let your young kid take care of them. I’m pretty sure that’s what my mum did.


39 Bea { 11.02.08 at 6:21 am }

Not a mouse in your case, of course. That second sentence was for you. No – perhaps a cricket instead. They have an even shorter lifespan.


(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
The contents of this website are protected by applicable copyright laws. All rights are reserved by the author