In Allie's six years, she has had 3 experiences with those close to her dying - 2 dogs and her paternal Grandfather. I have to say, she took those in stride - like most 2 (when our first dog, Audi died), 3 (when our 2nd dog Budi died) and 5 year olds (when her grandpa died) do. She wasn't overly sad or weepy - more matter-of-fact about it.
As she gets older, she is much more emotional about her dogs and grandpa. Out-of-the-blue, Allie will ask questions about death and dying - I'm sure typical questions that most kids ask, that most parents really have no answer to (i.e., what does it feel like to die, can you still hear and see your friends and family when you die, do you eat when you die, are there restaurants in heaven, can dead people go swimming, is it cold, etc).
My father-in-law's birthday is in October and Allie asked a simple, yet thought provoking question. Even though Grandpa is dead, does he still get older on his birthday? My initial answer, was "no, I don't think so". But then Allie said that didn't make sense. I asked her why and she told me it was because if his body was buried in the ground, his body was still there and why wouldn't it get older each year. I thought for a minute and decided how could I immediately dismiss her thinking? So, while I was silent, she asked me what I thought about what she said. I told her that it sounded good to me.
I thought it we could let it go. But no - she said, "well, is it true"? I said, I'm not sure. She then said we should ask our Rabbi because they know everything about God and "stuff". I thought that was a great idea.
Even though we have seen our rabbi lots of times since then, Allie never remembered to ask. We were at the Temple selling girl scout cookies yesterday when Allie remembered she had a question for our rabbi. After he bought his girl scout cookies, she asked him her question. And he was just as stumped as I was!
So, he tried to take a rabbinical path and discuss with Allie all the wonderful things you can do to remember a person when they die and how you can honor their memory and that it doesn't matter what the answer is, its more important to just remember and celebrate them.
Do you think Allie was satisfied with that answer? No. She wasn't interested in what he was saying - however eloquent and thoughtful and inspiring it was. She just wanted the answer to her question. We left the rabbi's office, happy that he bought girl scout cookies, but unsatisfied as she wondered who would know her answer because someone HAS to know.
So, after our stint at the Temple, Allie had her Brownies meeting and I thought all was forgotten about death and dying for the moment. Not so.
For her bedtime story, she wanted to read Saying Goodbye to Lulu by Corinee Demas (which I strongly recommend if you want a way to introduce a young child to the concept of a pet dying) - one of her preschool teachers gave her that when she was 3.5 and our dog Budi was dying of cancer. It is a beautifully written book - but a tear jerker!
I tried to steer her away from reading it last night and she asked me why and I said, "well, its just so sad - do you really want to read it now?". She said yes, that it was okay to be sad sometimes and she was really missing Budi & Audi and that book makes her feel better. So we read it and I'm trying to hide/stiffle my tears (why don't we like to let our kids see us cry?) and all of a sudden, Allie looks at me and starts crying and simply says, "that book always makes me cry - how about you?" So, then I feel soooooooooooooooooo silly for stifling my tears and I say, "yes, me too". And she says, "Then, how come I can't hear you cry?"
Wow, they don't let us get away with anything, huh?