Tuesday, June 7, 2011

living in our hearts

A few months ago:

Death. The big D. The topic no one wants to think about, let alone explain to a 4 year old, and yet, there I was, trying to sound all soothingly nonchalant and do just that.  Boy-o was asking again, as he does periodically, about where Kali (our furbaby that we lost to cancer last year) was.  I responded again, that Kali died, and that it's okay to miss her and be sad about it.  But that we can also feel happy about Kali's life with us, and that she will always be with us 'in our hearts'. 

Previously, this explanation had sufficed, and off he would go, seemingly satisfied.  Not this time.  "But what does death mean?  Where do we go?  Are you going to die?  Is Gramma going to die?  She's older than 60!  Am I going to die?"   And under this barrage of kiddie questions, I do what any unprepared parent would.  I totally panic.  My inner dialogue likely ran something like this: "Death is freaky shit.  Do not fuck your kid up."  I always thought this conversation would happen, you know, later.  And I could talk about all these different beliefs about what happens after you die.  But I'm pretty sure that Boy-o isn't ready for heaven/reincarnation/the circle of life/nothingness conversation just yet.   So I stumble through as best I can.  It sounded something like this: "Yes buddy, everyone has to die.  Even Mama, and Gramma, and even you.  But hopefully you won't have to worry about it for a long, long time.  And even when I die, I'll always be with you in your heart.  And if you died, I'd always keep you with me in my heart.  That way we will always be together."  And I feel sort of satisfied with this answer, thinking it's sort of vague and reassuring.  Until Boy-o litearlly dissolves in a puddle of sobs before my eyes.  And when he can finally say something, he manages through tears to ask: "I'm going to be in your heart forever?"  And I concur.  To which he starts wailing afresh: "BUT IS IT DARK IN THERE?!"  Oh Christ.  Good job, Mama.  Four year olds = the most literal creatures on the face of the planet.  Swell.  I need a fucking manual.  I really do.

And back in the present day:

The kids and I are off to take our other cat Jezebel (and yes Grampa, I still remember that Jezebel 'wasn't a nice woman') to the vet to check out a large and steadily growing lump.  I am all too aware that it could easily be cancer, and that we will again have some tough decisions to make about our furbaby.  And that Boy-o may again be thrown into the kiddie turmoil of wrestling with death. 

And I still don't have any better answers for him.

Does anyone know of any fantastic four-year old appropriate books about dying?



  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NjFbz6vGU8

    i don't have kids, and i've never had to answer this question, but i do remember this episode of Sesame Street like it was yesterday. it aired at almost the same time that my grandfather died, and i imagine that helped a bit.
    good luck.

  2. The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst is about a boy dealing with the death of his cat. Patricia Murphy's book 'Death' addresses common questions about death and is suitable for preschoolers.

  3. http://www.amazon.com/When-Dinosaurs-Die-Understanding-Families/dp/0316119555 When Dinosaurs Die was really helpful for my 3 year old.