"Mom, what happens when someone lives alone and dey die?"
"What do you mean?"
"How do dey get buried?"
"Uh, well, they usually have friends or family that notice they're gone and those people call the police and then arrange for a burial or cremation."
(Oh shit, why did I bring up cremation?? That was so unnecessary! I so suck at this whole parenting thing!!)
"Cremation is, uh, when a dead body is turned into ashes."
"Ashes? What do you mean?"
"Like what's left over from a fire."
"Wait mom, how do dey do dat? Make da body be ashes? I don't like dis. Why?"
"It's nothing to feel weird about. Your body is just a shell, it's your soul that matters. Your soul goes up to heaven and then your body is just a used up shell. Like, you know when a snail changes shells? When you find a snail's old shell, it's just an empty shell--there's nothing special about it. You could break it up into a million pieces and no one would care because the snail moved on. You know?"
"Yeah. Mom?" he asked, his eyes looking watery, "When I die, will I be dead forever?" He took a deep, shuddering breath and started blinking rapidly.
"Uh--no. No. You'll be in heaven. Your soul will leave it's shell and go up to heaven and be with everyone you've been missing who died before you."
"Will I die before you do, mom?"
"God, no. No way," praying he wouldn't realize that this would mean that he'll be forced to eventually deal with my death.
"Oh, good!" he said with relief.
"Will I be dead when da two fousands are over wif?"
"What? When it becomes the year 3000?"
"Yeah, whatever comes after two fousand."
Unsure of how to answer, I hesitantly went with the truth. "Yes, you'll be gone by the year 3000."
"No!" he exclaimed, looking shocked and scared.
"Wait! I did my math wrong! Mama's so bad at math. It will be the year 2100 when the 2000s are over, and you'll still be alive then. You'll be alive, but really old. Probably chasing little kids off your lawn and telling younger people what the internet was like when you were 6."
"Whew," he said, looking relieved.
I'm not sure what the preoccupation is with death lately, but discussing the subject with a 6-year-old is like skipping through a field of land mines. After the last "whew" I quickly excused myself to the bathroom, where I hid until it was safe to come out.
Poor big kid. I can sympathize with him, I was very much like that when I was a kid. And I still am, actually. I just never asked so many questions and my mom never answered like you did. She usually just lied.
I think the way you explained to him, about the body being just a shell, is good way to explain it. Maybe I'd feel different about life and death if I had been taught that from the beginning. I wouldn't like the idea, just like he didn't, but maybe I would accept it in time.
Kids are such funny little creatures. When one of mine was six he was so worried about dying that he wore a stethescope around his neck so he could listen to his heart and make sure he hadn't died. He would walk up to people and ask them if he was dead. What can you do?
i just read this outloud to my husband. we were cracking up. they are building a funeral home a few blocks from our house and the kids CONSTANTLY ask what it's all about. 5 & 6 years old. i feel like a big-ol'-liar. i sometimes say, "maybe it'll be a super-huge mc donald's"
I think these were excellent answers. You did a good job Ashley.
I love your honest, candid responses while also considering his feelings. My mom died almost two years ago when Big was three, and he is so like BK with all of his questions. Since then we've lost two fish and two dogs and the questions I get about death from both boys just make me want to crawl into a hole (or the bathroom) and hide. But I answer them the best that I can because if I don't, goodness knows what they will come up with in their little, overactive minds.
Conversations about death are some of the trickiest, in my opinion. I think you did a great job being both truthful and comforting - it's a fine line to walk.
One of my sweetest memories of my kids and this topic is when my daughter at age four told me that you "couldn't die inside". I asked her what she meant, and she said that a person couldn't die inside a building. I asked her why she thought that, and she told me that (du-uh) you couldn't die inside because you would bump your head on your way to heaven.
Poor little thing - I felt kind of guilty crushing her feeling of safety indoors by telling her that a person could actually die anywhere and their soul could pass through the ceiling if they were inside.
Not feeling totally confident in the whole heaven thing, I kinda felt like I was just telling her the story of Santa. I envied parents firm in their beliefs who could confidently say that heaven exists and our spirits will all reside there (after having, maybe, passed through a ceiling).
Lindsey, tell them it's an office! That's not even a lie (hardly).
Amy, my faith is shaky too. I had the same "am I lying?" type thought as I promised Big Kid heaven. Sometimes I think the thought of the permanence of death is too unbearable for us as humans, so it makes sense that we would latch onto a tale of a wonderful, alternate end for ourselves and our loved ones.
I mostly believe, but only because I so badly want it to be true.
I totally agree that the permanence of death is too much for us to comprehend as humans. I too so badly hope that the concept of heaven is true - also because I so badly want to believe. Having lost my father-in-law and father this year, my faith has been tested more than ever before - and I continue to hope.
Ashley, I'm going to therapy because of a bad break up and my therapist recommended me a book by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, "On Death and Dying", which talks about death and grieving process.
While I was looking for this book, I found another by her called "On Life After Death" and I read her explanation about death at the beginning of the book and immediately remembered your blog and Big Kid.
She explains death it in a really interesting way and says really interesting things about what happens after you die and near death experiences, it might be worth checking out if you haven't.
If the book convinces you like it did to me (and I'm not religious at all, I wish I was) then you can be sure you didn't lie to Big Kid, there's a "heaven" after you die. Maybe not in the Biblical way, but it sounds just as good as heaven, if not better, from her description.
Sorry for the long comment! Sometimes I can't stop writing. =)
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