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On Death and Dying

Posted Nov 17 2008 11:51pm

This week has been plagued with some weird and repetitive conversations with our 4-year-old. He keeps asking about dying. There’s simply no way that a child that young can grasp the concept of death - I’ve still got questions about it at 37!

He began by asking if he was going to die. Well, we didn’t want to lie to him, so we explained that everyone, every living thing, would die at some time. That led to specific questions about rocks, Lego’s, trees, flowers, and even his teddy bear. So we launched our explanations about the difference between the living and the non-living (which led to LOTS more questions :-). Flowers and trees were tricky - annuals, perennials, the flower itself, the plants, etc. - you get the picture.

Even though we thought the matter was somewhat resolved for him, we found him in tears the next day because he didn’t want to die. I thought it would make him feel better to explain that it’s just our bodies that die - our soul/spirit/personality lives on with God. Well, that just opened the door to the conversation about Jesus and God - are they alive? have they ever been alive? when did they die? where are they now? Once the conversation wraps up, we think we’ve made some headway on the subject.

Another incident in tears left us knowing the subject may never be resolved to his satisfaction. Not only did he want to know how he was going to die, he’d also like to know how we’re all going to die and WHERE! Without making life too scary, we tried to explain that there are lots of different ways a person can die (sudden plane wreck, drowning, cancer, just plain getting old and your body gives out - you better believe I played this one up!). You never really know when or where - it’s a mystery.

Even though each conversation has it’s seeming resolution, the “wheels” spin some more and another conversation emerges. Since many of these are redundant, I’ve decided to focus on and include in all of our “death conversations” that we need to enjoy every day that we have. We should not focus on death - when or where it will occur - we have little control over that (although we’ve already pushed the idea of making healthy choices - eating right and not smoking - to get the most out of our lives). What we do have control of is finding the joys and pleasures of every day.

I know for me, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the drama of all the bad things going on - the sudden need to replace a sewer line in the front flower bed, the shingles that are sliding off the roof, the A/C unit that reminds you it’s on it’s last leg by requiring $100 worth of freon - AGAIN, not to mention the temper tantrums and sibling rivalry amongst the children!

What was I saying??? Oh yes, the joys and pleasures of every day life. I think sometimes we have to force ourselves to look for them; they are often found in the mundane - a husband that cooks breakfast 5 days a week, the first grade teachers agreeing not to give homework for the rest of the year, the temperature NOT getting over 85 degrees, the best game of Battleship I’ve played with my 7-year-old.

Despite my complaining, there is pleasure in these “death conversations.” I’m getting to think more about my own faith and what I believe about death, and I’m getting to share that with my 4-year-old to help him shape his own beliefs. I’m also really glad that he’s asking me questions (other than “why,” which is where my 2-year-old seems to be stuck for now :-). Not too long from now, he may not be willing to talk to me about anything important. You better believe I’m going to try to enjoy every conversation I can have with him between now and the teenage rebellion!

** I wrote this several months ago . . . not sure why I never published it. The death conversations stemmed from the Easter season at his preschool - his OLD preschool. We realized (a bit too late, I’m afraid) that their idea of “age appropriate teaching” was not the same as ours. We’ve been at a different preschool this last year that’s much more on the same page as we are - we’ve loved it and haven’t had any more tearful discussions about death or dying. Now we’re trying to explain why things break when he stretches/bends/pulls/pushes things beyond their limits - much simpler, but no less repetitive!

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