We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers. - I Thessalonians 1:2

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Life and Death

Explaining life to Cate was easy: I had a c-section with Brennan and so she assumes that's how all babies get here. She's three. I don't care to get more technical than that for now. She's seen my scar and is quick to point out that "that's how the doctor got Brennan out." When she's a little bit older, we'll give her the real low down on how babies get here.

Death is a whole other story. About 3 months ago we attended the calling hours for my cousins' grandmother (not a grandmother we share). The casket was open. Cate asked me what the lady was doing "in that box." I had to make a decision in that moment-- go "there" with the whole death thing OR say she's just sleeping. I chose the latter. I realize some mothers may judge me for that, but hear me out. Cate had only seen this woman on one other occasion. No one we are close to has passed away (thankfully) since Cate's birth so we haven't needed to have this conversation. Telling her that my cousins' grandmother was asleep satisfied her curiosity and we were able to move on. Our shared grandmother tried to step in and told Cate, "no, she's dead" (not kidding, that's how she said it), but we kind of walked away and reinforced the sleeping thing.

(ETA: After reading a few of the comments on this post, I should point out that we did not equate sleeping with death as in "she's dead, it's like being asleep." We described my cousin's grandmother as sleeping because that's what she looked like and it seemed good enough for Cate-- she never asked anyone about it again. BUT I'm glad a commenter pointed out that you have to be careful with the whole death and sleeping thing so as to not make kids afraid to fall asleep at night).

Then came Easter. We started talking to Cate a little more about death because of Christ's resurrection. She didn't really "get it," but she didn't ask a lot of questions either.

Then came the bird. My girl has a bleeding heart for animals. She loves her dog, cat, and fish. She loves other people's dogs and cats. She loves the zoo. Heck, when we went downtown last week for lunch she shared half of hers with the pigeons (they like hot dog buns and shredded cheese).But before we went downtown, we were getting in the car. And she picked up a dead bird that was on our driveway. We didn't know she had picked it up, but she was cradling it and brought it to us and asked us what was wrong with it. After disposing of the bird and thoroughly sanitizing her hands, we tried again to explain what death meant. Again, we don't think she really got it, but she did tell people that she found a bird and "it was dead because it flew too fast and it's heart stopped." FYI: We didn't tell her that it flew too fast-- not sure where that came from.

I lost one of my grandfathers before I was two, so I don't remember him. My mom tells me I told her that he had gone "night night" after seeing him at the calling hours. The next close relative I lost wasn't until 5th grade, when I clearly understood what it meant to die.

So how do you do it? How do you explain the whole life and death thing to a three year old? Or do you? I don't feel like we did a very adequate job in any of the above instances. And I know our pets aren't getting any younger (and not to be morbid, but neither are some of the elderly members of our family).

~Melody :-)

Pouring my heart out with Shell today.

PS...We're coming up on some busy times. It might be a little quiet around here with just a post or two over the next couple of weeks. I promise we're all okay. And while I'd love to tell you we're going on vacation to somewhere cool, the reality is, we're just plain old busy.


Kim said...

Hands down one of the hardest decisions I've faced so far as a mother too. My brother passed a year ago and I haven't told my three year old. He didn't go to the funeral and once when he asked where Uncle Matt was, I told him Heaven and he left it there and so did I.

jmberrygirl said...

Two things: 1. Grandma needs a lesson about not contradicting Mommy. 2. Our parenting policy is just not to over-explain. If she's ok with sleeping or has made up her own "flying too fast" explanation for the bird's demise, I wouldn't push it. Our reason for holding back with the big stuff is that childhood is short. We don't want to shatter the innocent naivete a minute sooner than we have too. If she asks for more details, then give them! But if not, I'd let it lie.

Thanks for sharing! :) You're a great mom.

Carol said...

I have heard of some children that began to fear going to sleep at night when death was described as "going to sleep". So you might want to think of something else!

mama marchand said...

Wow ... I haven't even thought about how to explain death to a toddler. Obviously, N is too small to comprehend that yet. I'm sure there's a children's book out there that could help! (see how prepared I am? haha)

Shell said...

This is so hard. My boys' great-grandfather died last year. We talked about how he got really old and sick and so he went to Heaven. But, I don't know how to explain it very well at all.

Emily said...

Great topic. Death is hard to handle at any age, but I can't imagine being a small child and trying to comprehend something like that. I think you did a good job. If she was satisfied with your answer, then it was the right one. I really have no clue what I would have done in that situation. When it is a family member she is close to, perhaps a grandparent, then a little more explanation may be in order... but hopefully by that time she'll be much older and be able to understand what is going on.