I’m not allowed to tell you that your dog is dead
October 10, 2017 9:58 AM   Subscribe

So, Your Kid Found Out About Death: Nicole Cliffe (previously) on how parents can explain (more likely fail to explain) the fact of death to their children.
posted by Cash4Lead (77 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
A friend told me about a couple he's friends with. Their small child, maybe about 3, was very upset by learning that everyone was going to grow older and change - he thought that they were all just going to carry on forever, exactly as they were - him, the dog, his parents. I found that to be unbearably heartbreaking. I don't think they told him about death.
posted by thelonius at 10:15 AM on October 10 [19 favorites]

I had not realized there were people who are this bad at talking about death. When my son asked about death, I said that people break and don't go anymore. A couple of years later it sank in, and he said "Daddy, I don't *want* to die!" I didn't have any clever reply. I just said I knew and that no one did, but that it would be a long time yet. That's about all there is to say. I can't see why anyone wouldn't just say that, though. It's an idea that takes a long time to get used to. You might as well start young.
posted by ckridge at 10:29 AM on October 10 [37 favorites]

When little mule junior was about four years old our dog Bowser bit the dust. Master mule found him in the back yard and led me by the hand to where we gazed on the remains. I could not figure out a way to dissemble, so I said, "Bowser's dead, mule." He put his palm to his mouth and for a moment we contemplated the scene.

"Do you know what dead means?" I asked him.

"Yes," he replied. "Broke, can't fix him."
posted by mule98J at 10:36 AM on October 10 [58 favorites]

I think I first understood death as a concept when my pet goldfish died. Kind of cliche but I imagine a lot of young kids learn about death through the loss of a family pet. Alive and swimming one day. Floating dead the next. I was sad but I understood what had happened. Very much like your junior mle98j. My fish was broke, and there was no fixing it.
posted by Fizz at 10:44 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]

I understand death as it relates to the physical world. Broke can't be fixed, indeed.

But more than that... is there an afterlife? I don't think so. I'm an agnostic Catholic, so I really have no idea what I een vaguely believe in. But I'm lucky, no one very close to me has died. This will, of course, change with time. I'm not sure how I'll handle that.
Pets are my experience of death so far. And I don't like it.
I think I would like to believe in an afterlife, but I hate all that stuff people post online (I've never heard it in real life) about the "rainbow bridge", and the idea that we all go somewhere when we die is just bizarre to me. I mean, is it just people? Because I don't see people as all that different from other animals, so do animals. And is it just higher mammals, what about flies? And if they have an after life then what about trees and plants. And if so, where do they all fit?

I know, that all sounds rambling and not at all sincere, but it is. An afterlife like that makes no sense to me. I could maybe be sold on the idea of energy changing and mutating, but then, that isn't really a person is it.

In conclusion, this was longer than I had started out and also death leads to strange thoughts.
posted by Fence at 10:54 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]

I, on the other hand, couldn't sleep for about six months in elementary school because I would close my eyes and be overcome by existential dread that someday I would not exist anymore. I think some kids process this news better than other kids do!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:55 AM on October 10 [38 favorites]

I found this article (and the Twitter thread that producued it) incredibly moving, and thanks for flagging it here. My own kids announced a coupled of years ago that they'd"worked out that Mummy will die first, then you Daddy" because they assumed you died in the order you were born. They'd even worked out where the cats would fit into this mortal sequence, since they assumed both would live exactly the typical lifespan of a domestic cat.

I also remember that after my Dad died, my nephew (about 6 at the time) would start every conversation by reminding me "your dad's dead!" Since this was also his grandfather he was speaking about, I took it to be his way of coping and trying to be helpful.

It's my job to encourage people to talk more about dying, death and bereavement, and the issue of how to talk to children about it comes up again and again. Articles like this show that in many cases children are open to talking about death, and we adults teach them not to. Then 20 years later we complain that they aren't planning for the future and are acting like they'll never grow old and die.
posted by YoungStencil at 10:55 AM on October 10 [11 favorites]

Here is a recent AskMe of mine looking for books to explain death to my son.

Here is how I did it. YMMV.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 10:56 AM on October 10 [14 favorites]

Here is my collection of books that I have found to be very gentle and effective for helping young children begin to understand death.
Ida, Always
Ida, Always is an exquisitely told story of two best friends—inspired by a real bear friendship—and a gentle, moving, needed reminder that loved ones lost will stay in our hearts, always.

I Miss You: A First Look at Death
When a close friend or family member dies, it can be difficult for children to express their feelings. This book helps boys and girls understand that death is a natural complement to life, and that grief and a sense of loss are normal feelings for them to have following a loved one's death.

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages
This story by Leo Buscaglia is a warm, wonderfully wise and strikingly simple story about a leaf names Freddie. How Freddie and his companion leaves change with the passing seasons, finally falling to the ground with winter's snow, is an inspiring allegory illustrating the delicate balance between life and death.

The Invisible String
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst is a heartwarming story that reassures children that even though they can't always be with a loved one, they're always in each other's hearts. Whenever a child thinks about a family member, THE INVISIBLE STRING gives a tug. This book is an excellent way to begin the conversation about death. The gentle story illustrates that we are still connected by love even after someone passes.

The Next Place
"The Next Place" is an inspirational journey of light and hope to a place where earthly hurts are left behind. An uncomplicated journey of awe and wonder to a destination without barriers. (Religious Overtones)

I'll Always Love You
In this gentle, moving story, Elfie, a dachshund, and her special boy progress happily through life together. One morning Elfie does not wake up. The family grieves and buries her. The watercolor illustrations, tender and warm in color and mood, suit the simple text perfectly.

Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs
Tommy is four years old, and he loves visiting the home of his grandmother, Nana Downstairs, and his great-grandmother, Nana Upstairs. But one day Tommy's mother tells him Nana Upstairs won't be there anymore, and Tommy must struggle with saying good-bye to someone he loves.

When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death
Straightforward and compassionate, When Dinosaurs Die explains death, dying, and coping with grief and loss in simple and accessible language for young kids and families.

Badger's Parting Gifts
Badger's friends are overwhelmed with their loss when he dies. By sharing their memories of his gifts, they find the strength to face the future with hope.
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:59 AM on October 10 [19 favorites]

one funny aspect of this to me is that most of us grow up eating animals

I'm not even sure as someone raised to be a vegetarian how that plays out typically
posted by idiopath at 10:59 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]

I, on the other hand, couldn't sleep for about six months in elementary school because I would close my eyes and be overcome by existential dread that someday I would not exist anymore.

s/six months/32 years/
posted by Behemoth at 11:00 AM on October 10 [9 favorites]

(which, to be fair, is a long time to be in elementary school, but I'll move on when I'm ready...)
posted by Behemoth at 11:01 AM on October 10 [34 favorites]

I went through the existential dread phase as a small child, and still have it lurking if I look too closely. My eldest was really bothered, but moved on relatively quickly. My youngest was profoundly disturbed by it and was stuck on it a long time, and like myself seems likely to fall back to it upon provocation, but he is a very fearful child in general.
posted by Four Ds at 11:03 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]

In German culture, it’s not considered healthy to shield kids from an awareness of the reality of death. It’s not uncommon for parents to make a point of teaching kids as bluntly and honestly as possible, without being cynical or morbid about it. So when my Opa died while I still lived with my mom and her family before my American grandparents kidnapped me, my family there made a point of teaching me what had happened and explaining it was natural and eventually happens to everybody. I think they even showed me his body. It’s not a universal idea that sheltering kids from basic facts about nature and how life works is necessary or healthy. Americans seem especially preoccupied with the idea you have to lie to kids—not just use common sense and care when broaching scary subjects, but outright lying—until they’re ready to handle the truth. I think it’s of a piece with the general “Always! Be! Positive!” tenor of the contemporary culture but I’m not always fond of how far some people want to go in their backlash impulses to that strain in the culture either, so I don’t know... Maybe trust parents to know and understand what their individual kids need and can handle on a case by case basis sometimes?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:04 AM on October 10 [9 favorites]

Also around age 3 or 4, we saw a dead seagull in the park. It was the most beautiful, ghastly thing. It was on its back, white wings spread wide, feet up, head to the side, beak open, eyes open, lying directly at the base of a very tall tree, as though it had simply tumbled from the sky.

My tiny blonde son stared at it for a very long time and then we kept walking. I remember looking at the curls on the top of his head while I waited for him to be done looking.

Later, he asked me how the seagull's family would find it. Then he asked me where we go when we die, and I didn't have an answer for him.

That beautiful fall Saturday is etched in my brain, because it was the moment that Death came into my son's life. He became terrified of it - of the word, of any book or movie or situation where character death was any sort of possibility. He could not watch Thomas go over a rickety track. He could not watch Frosty melt away. Death, the idea of his own unmaking and unbeing, the concept that one day a child might look for a parent and not be able to find them, Death had come for him and altered him in a way I can't actually describe. He began getting panic attacks, which continued for years. He would start to cry in the back of the car, saying to me "someday you'll die and I'll be alone."

Now, of course, we know that some of this intense anxiety comes from other factors - from other differences in his brain. He has a therapist and resources to help him cope better when the terror wells up, but it still wells up and maybe it always will. I do feel like, in a very real sense, that moment broke something in him, like when a glass slips out of your hand and shatters on the floor.

I don't remember learning about death. I was an adult before I knew anyone who died, and although of course the concept of people being dead was part of my regular media consumption I don't think I ever had that sharp shattering moment that he had. Not until that day, and the seagull, and his questions, and my realization that someday I would die and I would, in fact, leave him motherless in the world. I guess you could say that in that moment the glass in my hand shattered, too.
posted by anastasiav at 11:07 AM on October 10 [25 favorites]

kid, three, flopping onto the couch: I'm dead.
Me: What do you know from dead?
kid: The boys at school told me ... Daddy, what is dead?
Me: It's like, you stop working, there's no more you. It's probably not much fun.
kid, joyfully: Oh. I'm dead, I'm dead, I'm dead!
posted by uncleozzy at 11:23 AM on October 10 [10 favorites]

[A few comments deleted; No Robots, if you want to participate in the conversation, it's fine to do that without throwing out inflammatory fightbait declarations.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:24 AM on October 10 [5 favorites]

I think being dead is kind of like being asleep. For most of the night I basically cease to exist. I'm not scared to go to bed, in fact I really look forward to it. I'm pretty sure I'll wake up in the morning but if I don't, so what? Any fear I have concerning death is about the potential pain and/or terror of the process of dying but I have absolutely zero fear about being dead. I don't know if suggesting to kids that we kind of die every night is a good idea though (-:
posted by sineater at 11:28 AM on October 10 [4 favorites]

I feel like death would be easier to accept if you can come to believe and accept, at a fundamental level, the Buddhist concept of Anatta. It wouldn't change anything in the material world (still chop wood and carry water), but I think it would resolve a lot of the suffering we have that grows up around thinking about death.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:28 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]

I honestly have no memory at all of how I learned what death was or how I felt about that knowledge. I had a strong grasp of it already when my first pet died, so my parents must have explained it somehow but it isn't a resonant memory for me. Maybe it is a resonant memory for my mom, though! I'll have to ask her if she remembers.

Whoever taught me must have done something right though, because I just don't have a very fearful or angsty relationship with mortality. I mean obviously I am tremendously sad when people die and I miss those I've lost very much, but the knowledge that I'll eventually die seems to be fairly painlessly integrated into my world view. So thanks, whoever had that first conversation with lil' Hardcheese! It's like the one silver lining in my impending middle age.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:32 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]

When I was seven, all of my grandparents, my babysitter, and my first pet sickened and died over the span of about three years. I'm pretty sure I had the basic fact of death down by then - fairy tales sure help - but I remember feeling betrayed by the realization that "dying of old age" was usually synonymous with dying of illness. That there were illnesses that people never recovered from.

I was also shocked by the mundanity of it all. It was nothing like the movies. I was furious and confused by my parents when they didn't cry at the funeral and when they did cry at the dinner table. I felt abandoned in favor of mountains of paperwork. I felt invaded by a slew of well-meaning adults asking me to talk about my own feelings. And most of all, I felt as if there was something wrong with *me*, because I was seven or eight or nine and I was the only kid in my class who didn't have anyone visiting me on Grandparents' Day.

I wish desperately that someone, some adult, had been able to give me a more realistic idea of what death looked like before the fact. I think being unclear with children about what death is is one of the cruelest things you can do to them. Maybe I'm fooling myself, thinking that any knowledge I could have had might have made it easier on me at the time. But just plain not explaining until they're "old enough" sounds so much worse than even the patchy kid-level knowledge I had. I think it's a symptom of our (USAmerican in my case) culture's nutty attitude about death and dying and bodies and mortality, an attitude very few of us are free of.
posted by fast ein Maedchen at 11:33 AM on October 10 [6 favorites]

(However my cat is going to live FOREVER and don't you DARE tell me else.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:33 AM on October 10 [10 favorites]

>Why do we live here instead of being in heaven the whole time?

Ha! Unfortunately for the author, having a kid who's smarter than the majority of adults is not a problem you can talk your way out of.

We had Afterschool Specials when I was a kid. These were television programs specially designed to introduce concepts that your parents were deliberately NOT talking to you about. I saw one where the kindly old gentleman next door was beloved by all the neighborhood children until his ticker stopped and he went into a box in the ground, therein presumably to be nibbled by weevils 'til Judgement Day.

Having taken this in, I confronted my mom with the question: "Am I going to die?" She was caught totally flatfooted and stammered, "Not for a long, long time." I said, "WHAT GOOD IS THAT?" and burst into tears.

I was five at the time. I'm fifty now, and I could have basically the same conversation about it today, except that the updated-for-accuracy version of my mom's line would be "maybe not for a little while yet"...
posted by Sing Or Swim at 11:34 AM on October 10 [8 favorites]

Ha! Unfortunately for the author, having a kid who's smarter than the majority of adults is not a problem you can talk your way out of.

Right? Cliffe's tiny little goth kid is AMAZING.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:35 AM on October 10

Being honest about death with your child, however, is the fastest ticket to realizing we don’t know what death is.

Such a weird take on death, that we don't know what death is just because different people have different ideas about what happens after death. We know what death is. I would *love* to know how the author learned about death as a kid - I kept waiting for it to show up in the piece and was kind of let down when it wasn't.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:38 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]

I had a grandmother and a great-uncle die in early childhood, but Dad dying when I was 7 pretty much helped me to nail the concept.

I feel like death would be easier to accept if you can come to believe and accept, at a fundamental level, the Buddhist concept of Anatta. It wouldn't change anything in the material world (still chop wood and carry water), but I think it would resolve a lot of the suffering we have that grows up around thinking about death.

I'm sorry, but I don't think it would have helped much. I wanted my Dad to be still with me, chopping wood and carrying water.
posted by thelonius at 11:46 AM on October 10 [6 favorites]

I don't think it's that weird of a take. She's a person of faith, so probably she believes in souls and whatnot. We don't know what happens to those.

Anyway, I don't recall learning about death either, but I remember when we had to put the family cat down when I was like 5 and I understood what was happening. And the first funeral I went to was for my great grandmother when I was about eleven.

Maybe this is just part of my grieving process, but I often feel baffled by death. "How can they be here one moment and gone the next?" is the refrain in my heart.
posted by purple_bird at 11:50 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]

I'm sometimes jealous of parents who get to ride training wheels into the death discussion, with a pet or something, or wait until they're a bit older to try to explain it.

My kid had to confront it very early on, in a very real way that affected her life, and so my kid could probably give a meaningful description of what death means from the time she was 3.

On the other hand... maybe because of that, I haven't sought out opportunities to talk about it with her seriously, recently. Maybe her concept of death is still kind of stuck at whatever she could handle at a younger age. It's probably about time to check in again.
posted by gurple at 12:00 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]

ArbitraryAndCapricious: I, on the other hand, couldn't sleep for about six months in elementary school because I would close my eyes and be overcome by existential dread that someday I would not exist anymore.

Since I was a teenager, maybe earlier, thinking about my own limited life and the likelihood that there's nothing after this has made my head swim.

With our boys, we have apparently been fairly German about it, just talking about it as plainly and clearly as possible. Then again, we're not religious, so the discussion is easier, though less comforting. (Related: if you don't raise your kids with religion, trying to describe God and Jesus is kind of weird, and actually harder than describing death.) It also helps that our older boy is fond of realistic animal shows, so we could discuss predators and prey and the natural cycle of things. Oddly, a lion attacking a cheetah wasn't that upsetting for him, but conflict in cartoons is too much for him. Kids are weird and fun.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:00 PM on October 10 [7 favorites]

I know what I hope death is. It’s a personal hope, one I don’t share with other people unless asked. It’s what brings me peace and what I use to make sense of the things I don’t have control over. I understand death on a biological level, based on what science knows so far. But I don’t know for sure, so I hope. When my parents die, that hope will get even stronger. When it’s my time, though? Who knows.

What I will always feel unequipped for is talking about things like mass murders, natural disasters, etc. Individuals are one thing. But giant groups? Where people died in fear and terror? No. I don’t know how to cope with that, much less help anyone else process it, especially not a child.
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:03 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]

Seems to me you can acknowledge and describe what death is in this world without having to even consider the bigger metaphysical questions about what that really means, which seems like a different topic to me—as that distinction someone made between talking about death and talking about after death and souls and what not upthread suggests. There seems to be a lot more intellectual real estate between those two topics from my POV than American culture makes room for acknowledging. I thought even in Christian faith, you’re supposed to leave the mysteries in someone else’s hands and not sweat them too much if you have deep faith. So to me, the impulse to elide the two distinct subjects seems like a marker of insecurity and doubt about the metaphysical side of the equation or an attempt to claim it’s within our power to answer those larger kinds of metaphysical questions we have very good theoretical reasons to believe can’t be answered.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:04 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]

Related: if you don't raise your kids with religion, trying to describe God and Jesus is kind of weird, and actually harder than describing death

We live near enough to a Catholic church to hear the bells, and walk past it regularly. Still-three kid asked about it a few weeks ago and... we wound up down a hole pretty quickly, scrabbling to answer a fusillade of questions about every new concept, despite my wife having been raised as a UU and getting extensive "here's-what-some-religions-are-like" training in her youth.

"It's like ... Santa? But instead of coal it's eternal torment, I guess?"
posted by uncleozzy at 12:07 PM on October 10 [8 favorites]

I still haven‘t managed to explain death to my six year old. Being an atheist has not helped. We‘ve been going round in circles for years now.

„But where are you after you die?“
„Well, your body is decomposing underground.“
„But what about me?“
„You...aren‘t. You’re not there anymore. You have ceased to exist. There is no more you. The you has stopped being.“
„But where are you then?“

I feel like I‘m in the middle of my own Dead Parrot sketch.

We have similar discussions about „but where was I before I was in your belly“, btw. Now the 3 year old is joining in. Gnggggh.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:09 PM on October 10 [13 favorites]

„but where was I before I was in your belly“

That is one of the takes on death I find most reassuring, actually! "Well, it'll just be like it was before I was born." Ok. That seems ok. I wasn't there, but it wasn't, like, a problem.

When my partner was maybe 6 he asked his father what happened after you died, and his father said some people think nothing, some people think you go to heaven, etc. etc., and partner asked "Well what do YOU think?" And his dad said "I think some part of you does continue to exist, I'm not really sure in what way exactly." And partner thought for a minute and then asked excitedly "So does that mean dragons are real, too???"

Anyway that's my favorite 'telling child about death' story that turns into a 'sick burn from a six-year-old instantly equating the idea of an afterlife with fantasy' story.
posted by little cow make small moo at 12:37 PM on October 10 [13 favorites]

We told our kids about death when they noticed it in the world around them, and then this past May they saw up close as their grandpa died from cancer (after a decade-long fight with it that turned vicious and brief).

One of my sons, age 15, surprised us all by stepping up and spending whole days and nights at their house as an aide to my mother-in-law. He never complained, and he served like any of the adults. I was very impressed that a blasé kid was suddenly acting to mature.

He hasn't spoken much yet about the experience, which must have really shaken him because he adored that man.

We all cried a lot in those days, and after. My kids had questions, and I told them what Catholicism teaches, and what other faiths teach, and what I believe. I don't know what they chose, but they seemed satisfied. I hope they don't need those new beliefs any time soon. :7(
posted by wenestvedt at 12:40 PM on October 10 [4 favorites]

I dated a girl in college who had never been to a funeral. The notion melted my brain.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:40 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]

My 3.5 year old has started talking about death, in the context of seeing a dead animal in the road and dead plants in our garden recently. I am not sure she knows what it really means, but death is a hot topic of discussion at her preschool lately. Her classmates have already put on a short play where one of them dies (because she ate poop). They talk about how they feel ("very sad, lots of sad crying"). I was taken by surprise by all of this at first, but ultimately I'm glad they're talking about it.
posted by medeine at 12:51 PM on October 10 [7 favorites]

I grew up in a small Southern town with a father of nominal importance. As a result, I had attended countless funerals by the age of 6. Some for aged family members, some for kids, and some for people my parents' age. Since it was the South, there were a lot of open casket funerals, which always seemed morbid and unnecessary to me. I didn't mind the funerals, or even the dead people, it was seeing adults so very sad and crying that disturbed me. And people always cried more when there was an open casket. And said dumb shit, like, "He looks so natural."

Out of all the funerals, my kid-self went to, the hardest was the one for one of my dad's high school friends. He was my dad's age and died of a heart attack at 30-mumble. His daughter was my age. And she wasn't allowed at the funeral.

I remember thinking how unfair it was that I was there and she wasn't* and the sheer terror of what would happen when my dad died. I was scared for a long time that he would suddenly die and there would be nothing I could do about it. Despite my family's Baptist attendance, the response I got from my dad when I told him how I was worried he'd die was less than reassuring. He said, "That's how it goes, baby. Daddies and Mommies die at some point. Hopefully not for a long time, but who knows." The fatalism of the statement shocked me away from fear and I packed away the idea of my dad dying for a few more decades.

*His daughter did ask me at school months after what the funeral was like. She'd never been to one and her mom thought it would be too much for her. We were 8. I told her that the preacher said nice things about her dad. People cried. And he looked like a doll in the casket. She thanked me and we never talked about it again.
posted by teleri025 at 12:55 PM on October 10 [10 favorites]

I, on the other hand, couldn't sleep for about six months in elementary school because I would close my eyes and be overcome by existential dread that someday I would not exist anymore. I think some kids process this news better than other kids do!

I was around 4, I think, when my mother talked to me about death. I don't remember how I was told exactly, but I remember wandering back outside to play in a mild state of shock, feeling like I'd just been punched in the gut. I think that was the first time I ever experienced the sensation of horror. You mean it's going to happen to everybody? No matter what? What a fuckin' turd in the punch bowl, man!

I was raised fundy Christian, so there was some comfort in the hope that the Rapture would happen before I had to die. Not too soon, though. I thought it would be best if I lived to be around 99 and then got Raptured just as the Grim Reaper was turning onto my street.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:05 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]

One of the most affecting parts of being introduced to death was seeing what it did to Adults: when my dad cried at my grandpa's funeral (when I was almost five), it blew my mind to realize that there was something more powerful than he was.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:14 PM on October 10 [3 favorites]

We all cried a lot in those days, and after. My kids had questions, and I told them what Catholicism teaches, and what other faiths teach, and what I believe.

That's the whole thing for me. Not answers and wisdom, but crying and talking. Neither was allowed for me though I was at several funerals a year between 4 and 15 for family members. I'm 40 and my parents will still NOT talk to me about death, sex, therapy, addiction, you name it. When people do talk about death it's often still from one perspective. But there are many views of death and I don't think any of them are wrong. I've found people are not ok whe I say I'm not actively inviting death but also have no fear of it. That scares people and I don't think it should. I don't know how we get to a place where we just talk about things like death, but the last line - The problem being, I guess, that I’m not ready to explain it to myself - seems to explain quite a bit of it.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 1:18 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]

I dated a girl in college who had never been to a funeral. The notion melted my brain.
Thanks to having a relatively small and long-lived immediate family (and plain luck with other friends and acquaintances,) I don't think I attended my first funeral until I was 30.

Actually, I take that back - my great-grandmother died when I was about 12 and I did go to a funeral/memorial service with her (closed) casket in a church, but I was not at her burial. It's a weird memory for me, because I remember being sort of... discouraged, if not outright disinvited by my father from going to the burial at the cemetery several hours away. (It was his grandmother.) Privately, I wanted to attend, partly because it was my great-grandmother of course but also precisely because I'd never been to a graveside service before and it seemed like something I should experience/confront. I've never been sure why I was excluded; my dad is not a demonstrative man when it comes to grief, and my family has always had a fairly pragmatic approach to illness and death... it was probably as simple as "he didn't know her all that well and that would be a long, boring road trip for a 12 year old kid."

But that one funeral was it until my grandparents began dying almost 20 years later. They were cremated and buried in very intimate services with much love and reverence but little ado. I didn't attend my first open-casket funeral (of a friend, not a relative) until I was well into my 30s. I've been to a couple of others since then and I frankly find the custom fucking ghastly, at least when embalming and pancake makeup are involved. In cases where I knew the decedent, it's like looking at a bad waxwork of them, only worse because it's their actual remains that have been dolled up in a futile attempt to hide the fact that dead is dead. A natural corpse would be easier for me to process.
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 1:35 PM on October 10

Tadpole knows that he came from Mom and Dad, and has enough of a grasp of the genetics to know that a good part of what made us ... US... is what made him HIM. Which means that no matter where he goes, he has part of us with him always.

He told me he doesn't want to die. I told him no one really does, but we all eventually do. And that it would not be much fun to live forever, because you'd spend most of your time missing things and people and pets and etc. He seems to understand that when you're dead, you're just gone, so your impact on the world is your only legacy - whether people remember you for good things or for bad things, it's up to you, and this one life is your only chance to determine the outcome.

So as far as I can tell, he's basically OK with the idea. He knows my mom died before he was born (about 20 years before, sadly!). He knows that his great grandfather died recently. He knows two of our cats died (one when he was nearly 2, and one when he was 6). He hasn't yet lost anyone very close to him, and I know that will be tough.

On the plus side, I have promised that if it is in any way possible, I will be a ghost and follow him around his whole life, giving him "ghost hugs" whenever he is having a tough day. (He knows ghosts aren't real, but he seems to like the idea.)
posted by caution live frogs at 1:43 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]

Mr. Rogers Talks about Death
The whole Episode: Death of a Goldfish: Mr. Rogers talks about death
Talking to your child about Death: The Fred Rogers Company

We're officially past the introduction of death in my house. And now we're talking about the news officially. I'll be honest, death was easier.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:59 PM on October 10 [16 favorites]

I'm fine with my death. But the vet thought one of my cats might have a heart condition that might kill him one day. I mean not soon or anything, but eventually. Just the idea that he was going to die left me a sobbing wreck and I hadn't cried in, like, decades. Take me all you want, leave the cats alone.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:10 PM on October 10 [9 favorites]

I've spent a lot of time through illness thinking about my own death, and I think I've made peace with it (although I'm not entirely sure). There's terminal cancer in my immediate family, someone my three year old twins are very close to, and so I get the joy of explaining death through the passing of their grandmother. I better start reading through some of these resources.
posted by Existential Dread at 2:23 PM on October 10 [3 favorites]

My family's dog died when I was seventeen or eighteen and I remember my parents being really upset and family friends trying to be really comforting, presumably with the sense that your pet dying is your first big grief and thus I needed lots of care. I was honestly barely sad. I'd had three friends and classmates die at that point (from different causes) and I was still grieving one of those friends pretty deeply. My dog who had lived a long full life just didn't seem that sad.

I know a lot of people don't like or don't understand open-casket funerals. The first funeral I went to, at age ten, was open-casket. Until I saw my friend there I wasn't totally sure that my parents and teacher were right about her being dead. There was just a bit of doubt. Seeing her removed all doubt and made it easier to just grieve. I think for kids especially open-caskets make death more concrete.
posted by Margalo Epps at 2:23 PM on October 10 [5 favorites]

I have the solemn obligation of welcoming many small children to their first funerals. Generally, I walk them in, let them survey the scene and then explain what everything in the chapel is, starting with the flowers and working up to the casket. I describe everything in small words with simple concepts and when I'm done, I ask if they have any questions. They ALWAYS have questions. Good ones, too. Sometimes questions I can't answer. But "I don't know" is also an answer.

Kids are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for. I remind them that it's okay to be sad and it's okay to not be sad. I encourage them to write a note to put in the casket, or--if they're too young--draw a photograph. The concept of "going away" can be difficult for kids, but they somehow easily understand "this part of me is going with you."

At the end of the funeral, I make sure that they leave with a flower or other memento. I encourage families to take pictures at funerals and at the graveside. Everyone is all dressed up, after all.

I'm blown away when people tell me that they've never been to a funeral. Always go to the funeral.
posted by ColdChef at 2:32 PM on October 10 [55 favorites]

(Also, my brother is an AMAZING embalmer. His bodies rarely look waxy or false. They are natural and he has a very light hand with cosmetics. Get you a good embalmer.)
posted by ColdChef at 2:34 PM on October 10 [6 favorites]

My 6yo has known about death for a couple of years now. One day in the car I off-handedly mentioned to my husband that it was my mother's birthday (she died years before I'd met him so he never knew her). My then 3? 4?yo heard me and got excited, asking if we'd be going to a birthday party that day. So I had to explain that no, we wouldn't. I didn't have a plan for explaining death, but that was definitely not the way to do it.

The hardest part of explaining death to a child is knowing that you are lying. To kids we say "you don't have to worry about death, it doesn't happen until you're really old". But my mom died in her forties, and I was barely no longer a child and was in no way prepared to adult. Everytime we talk about death I cringe at the idea that I might not live to see my kids settled in life as adults. Not for me, but for them.
posted by vignettist at 3:02 PM on October 10 [3 favorites]

It's a weird memory for me, because I remember being sort of... discouraged, if not outright disinvited by my father from going to the burial at the cemetery several hours away.

It was that way for me and my first funeral too. My great-grandmother passed away when I was nine, after a long illness, and I had to beg them and say: she was my Mamaw too. I know that everybody meant to be kind. Also, maybe not to have to deal with a weird, emotional, and morbid kid, which I completely understand and even understood a little then, so I behaved.

My memories of the funeral are ... well, "treasured" is the wrong word, but they mean a lot to me. I was able to see her clearly at rest, in a warm soft nightgown. A lot of people hate open-casket funerals, and certainly no one should feel obligated, but I think they really do have a place in this death-denying society we have. As an adult, I suddenly lost a good friend, whose viewing and funeral was with a closed casket (although I'm afraid it had to be). I remember being unable to sleep the night after the funeral, thinking: he must be cold, he needs a blanket, he has to be cold in the ground without a blanket ... It came from somewhere so deep inside that even being a smartass atheist could not reason with it.

It will probably never fall to me to answer a child's questions about death, but if it did, I would just tell them: it seems like we just go back to where we were before we were born, and that wasn't a bad place, was it? I thought it was pretty peaceful, then.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:04 PM on October 10 [5 favorites]

My great-grandmother, whom I barely knew, passed away when I was a wee lad - maybe five? - and after my parents got back from the funeral, they explained to me what went down. I don't remember exactly what they said.

I do recall a few days later, they'd put me to bed and had some friends over and I came down into the middle of their dinner party and announced, in tears, that I didn't want to die.

My dad (a Vietnam vet) explained to me that not only was death a long way off, that when you got closer to the end of your life, it wouldn't seem all that bad. I've found this to be true - I'm less anxious about death with each passing year.

I still mourn, of course (and in a weird way - I was inconsolable about my favorite cat for six months but had accepted my beloved grandfather's death in a third of that time) but I also find myself to be less effected than many people around me (and prone to want to celebrate the life of the departed). On the plus side, this has made me a good worker bee at funerals and wakes.

Regarding my own death, between my father's talk and a lifelong obsession with Hamlet, I am ready for it at any time and its ok when it does happen. I mean, it has to be ok because it will happen when it happens whether I'm ok with that or not.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:08 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]

My mother died five years before my first child was born, and as soon as my kids were old enough to point to her picture and ask where she was I explained that she was dead. We raised pigs for awhile and have other farm animals and pets, and my beloved grandmother died last year, so they have learned about it firsthand and I don't really soften it for them, tho I do keep the discussions positive.

My tactic may be backfiring - about a year ago my youngest developed a rather obsessive fear of death that led to some heartbreaking bedtime discussions, but I still feel that including our kids in all possible parts of dealing with family deaths as they happen, including attending funerals, is the best possible way for them to learn to cope with it as young as possible. Our family had several losses in rapid succession when I was a child and we basically learned that we all dealt with it better together than by isolating kids from adults or trying to "shield" the kids from it.
posted by annathea at 3:31 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]

This is a recent topic of conversation with my 4-year-old She started associating "getting sick" with getting old and dying because we used the phrase in regards to a great-grandmother who passed in December of last year ("Great-Nana got sick and she died, honey.")

Fast forward to May, and I got a cold. Didn't even think about it, just mentioned to her that I couldn't do XYZ because I was sick. It TERRIFIED her -- we had to work long and hard to break that association, and I've been kicking myself for it since.

Last night during a walk on the pier she asked about how long the waves were going to crash on the shore, and we told her they'd be coming in and out long after we were all gone. This led to questions about why we had to go, why we couldn't just always come back, and I think we handled it well. A young child's attention span is mercurial, and she ran off to watch a fisherman pull in his catch five seconds after casually conversing about the heat death of the universe.

At night when I'm rocking my 1-year-old to sleep, I frequently think to myself, "This is why religion/an afterlife was invented." Because when you're holding that sweet baby, you don't want to think that someday, he'll die. And that on top of that, someday, you'll die and leave your children and possibly your spouse alone to fend off the world. And you may get 93 years. You may get 2 hours. There's no way to know.

So you rock your kid and you want to believe there's more to it. And you hope they'll outlive you, because you know it will hollow you out if it goes the other way around.

Anyway, as a mom, I truly believe that children -- and knowing you have brought a child into the world to someday leave it -- are why we construct these softer stories, and why we sometimes blurt out stupid stuff. Love is weird and twisty like that.
posted by offalark at 4:55 PM on October 10 [19 favorites]

I had just turned four when a beloved neighbor lady died. That first loss was when I developed my patented Delayed Reaction Meltdown. Mom gave us a very gentle but honest talk about what death was and why we wouldn't see Mrs. C. again, and had a good little cry with my sister while I sat there nodding. I fell to pieces about a week later, and that's how grief has hit me ever since.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:57 PM on October 10 [3 favorites]

I always find it so bizarre when I talk to people -- in their thirties! -- who have never been to a funeral. I grew up in a big honkin' Catholic family that's all up in each others' business to the second cousin degree, so I'd been to a couple before I was five. All three of my kids -- the baby's only 14 months old! -- have been to one or two. I don't remember any of it as traumatic; I remember it as sad, occasionally boring, sometimes really hard. I also remember understanding, when I was about 6 or so, that older people who are grieving often find it comforting to have children around, and that I didn't have to do anything or say anything but that they'd like me to be there. I dealt with some pretty serious grief fairly young (age 6) when people very close to me died suddenly and unexpected, but the wake and the funeral weren't strange because I'd already been to a few. (Honestly the part that was weird was the limousines, since we were close family and were driven around instead of driving. I still remember how weird that was, since I'd never been in one before. I've never really liked them since.)

Although we're Catholic, we also separate "what is death" from "what comes after death?" First, because I remembered people telling me my grandmother was "in a better place" was not even a little bit fucking comforting as a child. Second, because I know a few people who've gotten all screwed up about what death means (and what religion means) by mashing up the two. We try to be really clear about what death means and the mechanical process. And then separately, when they ask about what comes after, we tell them nobody knows for sure, but what our family believes is X. Other families believe different things. I also have zero time for that brand of Christianity that says you shouldn't feel sad because the dead person has gone on to eternal life, to which I say, "Fuck you! I cry when out-of-town friends go home, I'm going to cry at a fucking funeral when separated by death! And also, your theology is probably less supported by Scripture than some other alternatives and if you push this we're going to have a throwdown about the bodily resurrection and the Eschaton not because I'm strongly attached to those positions but just because you're pissing me off."

No opinion on open vs. closed casket. I do remember my mother coaching me on what the open casket would be like before a great-aunt's wake when I was very little, I suppose probably the first person I knew well who died. I remember being curious, and that it was strange seeing her lying there, but it wasn't upsetting or creepy. My mom gave me the choice of going up to the coffin to pay my respects or just waiting for her in the front row, IIRC I sat in the front row because getting real close to the body was a step too far.

And then after the wake, as happens at every family funeral on that side of the family ever, we went back to the house, ate and drank, and cleared the living room furniture and got out the accordions and polka'd. It always ends in polka. I think I was in junior high before I went to a funeral that didn't end in polka.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:04 PM on October 10 [8 favorites]

On another topic, I too have the existential dread, but teaching Socrates (Plato's Apology) for six years mostly cured it. When you teach 3 classes a semester, two semesters a year, for years and years what Socrates has to say about death, it wears a groove in your brain and I'm not so bothered anymore! Socrates makes some good points!

She started associating "getting sick" with getting old and dying ... It TERRIFIED her -- we had to work long and hard to break that association, and I've been kicking myself for it since.

Yeeeeeeah, this is why we have been really careful to say that we had the cat euthanized, not that we had him "put to sleep," even though it sounds kind of cold and clinical that way. I can tell that one of my kids is exactly the kind of child who will hear "put to sleep" and begin to think going to sleep is dangerous because that's where you die (when in fact it's where I'm a Viking!). It's harder to avoid "she got sick" when talking about death ... I guess we've usually said something like "she was very sick for a very long time, and eventually her body stopped working."

"A friend told me about a couple he's friends with. Their small child, maybe about 3, was very upset by learning that everyone was going to grow older and change - he thought that they were all just going to carry on forever, exactly as they were - him, the dog, his parents."

My oldest (now 8) is my one who panics about that sort of thing. We went to see a planetarium show about black holes, and they started talking about the black holes sucking in everything and they could never escape again and he was SOBBING in terror (but refused to leave) and an utter wreck. I told him the black hole saves all the matter and "remembers" it all, so it's not "gone forever," it's being held safe by the black hole. (Plus, I told him, black holes probably recycle all that matter and energy into new cool space stuff!) He thought that was okay. We had to go watch the show again so he could see it while NOT panicking. He was really upset about Cassini "dying" until he realized Saturn was Cassini's favorite place and Cassini would get to "rest" there forever. Having sorted out black holes and Cassini, he actually did pretty well with our cat dying. He was really sad, but our cat had been so sick, and at least the cat wasn't being sent into the far reaches of space to be annihilated, just cremated, in the same state even!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:09 PM on October 10 [10 favorites]

(Also, my brother is an AMAZING embalmer. His bodies rarely look waxy or false. They are natural and he has a very light hand with cosmetics. Get you a good embalmer.)
Yeah, I realized after posting my comments about open caskets that maybe morticians around here just aren't very good at the cosmetic aspect of it.

I understand and appreciate the rationale behind having an open casket; when I've been present for the euthanasia of two of our pets it was comforting (in a terribly sad and painful way) to see that they really are gone, and the bodies they leave behind aren't them anymore. It's just that an uninhabited human body is already disconcerting enough, and bad makeup pushes it straight into uncanny valley territory that I find more troubling than the fact of the body itself.
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 5:35 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]

My husband's stepmother, one of my daughter's 3 grandmothers, died in May only 4 weeks after being diagnosed with stomach cancer. We'd seen her once when she was ill, which was shocking and confusing to my daughter, but at least we were all able to understand the gravity of the situation. We bought this, thinking it was a bit premature, but I was glad we did. We got to read it twice before we got the news that Gran B. had died.

Being only three and a half, my daughter still didn't immediately comprehend it. Her grief worked like this: over the course of an evening, wanting to call Gran B., then wailing that she wanted her back, and then wanting her pop-pop to marry a "new best friend to ride trains with right away." Then she wanted to draw a picture of Gran B. We watched the episode of Mister Rogers about the goldfish. I think that helped the most. Then, mostly, abruptly, she was okay.

She was confused by the funeral--I'd said that it was a place where we'd get to say goodbye to Gran B., but then Gran B. was only some ashes in a box. That was confusing. I do wish we'd been able to, somehow, see the body. Since then, I show my daughter dead things. A jawbone of an oppossum. A bird. "It's not sad," she'll say. "That's not the bird. Good bye, bird."

(Except, once, I showed her a dead mouse, and there was a wasp climbing under and through its head, making it appear to move. That was a little alarming.)

I think seeing death makes it less scary. My mother-in-law begged us not to take my daughter to the funeral, and never let her sons attend one until they were adults. I think it makes it confusing for kids to say goodbye to something without seeing it. I think of Mister Rogers and that still, empty fish. It's immediately understood that the life force, whatever that is, is gone. Not sad. It's not the fish. Goodbye fish.

My daughter still sometimes misses Gran B., but I tell her that's okay. That's how we know we loved someone, and love lives on after death.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:43 PM on October 10 [3 favorites]

I think being dead is kind of like being asleep. For most of the night I basically cease to exist. 

Great, now I'm afraid to sleep.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:35 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]

Great, now I'm afraid to sleep.

I wish I could sleep more.
posted by maxwelton at 7:35 PM on October 10

"I think being dead is kind of like being asleep. For most of the night I basically cease to exist."

This is 50% of Socrates! He says that death is either like being asleep and sleep is awesome! Or it's like living in a kickass afterlife, which also sounds awesome. In either case, what are you afraid of? SO CALMING.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:47 PM on October 10 [6 favorites]

Oh boy, sleep! That's where I'm a {null set}
posted by Existential Dread at 7:55 PM on October 10 [13 favorites]

I had not realized there were people who are this bad at talking about death

When I was eight I was friends with a girl who was a lot more popular than me and also went to a different school and a different church. There were a few months where she didn't contact me and I thought she has decided she hated me so I put in the effort to hate her back. It turns out she had a brain tumor and died and I didn't find out she had been sick until after she was dead - another parent called my mother to find out how she was delivering the news (again, different school, different religion, we fell through the informational cracks). I cried for two hours, asked a few questions, didn't accompany my mother to the funeral, she was never spoken about again and I was encouraged not to talk about it. This was to the point where I kept the little in memoriam slip of paper and would take it out from time to time to confirm that yes, she was a real person and that her death was a real thing that happened. I'd grasped what death was before that conversation, but that whole experience was so surreal I think it set me back. It was hard for me to figure out how the whole grieving thing worked in a surreal kid-guilt-filled vacuum.

Anyway, I guess the point is that there are ways you can fuck up the whole death conversation a lot worse than Nicole Cliffe. Also, why I react really, really badly to ghosting.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:01 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]

Just as a heads up, the most traumatic conversation I ever had with my parents was the 2:30AM conversation with my mom after I'd used the bathroom at 12:30 and had seen the blood and was concerned that someone was dying... And for two hours I was in tears and terrified that someone in my house was going to die, and instead I got 'the talk' after being emotionally drained and expecting a conversation of death...

I'm just saying... there are worse conversations in a kids life.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:06 PM on October 10

I was baby sitting a friend's 4-year-old recently and we came across a dead baby bird that was squished on the pavement and had entrails and blood spilling out and flies gathering around. The kid stopped and crouched down and I started to panic that I was going to have to have the "death talk" with someone else's kid. But then she looked up at me smiling and said "awww, isn't it cute?!!" And I was simultaneously confused, relieved, and a little bit horrified.
posted by lollusc at 8:53 PM on October 10

When I was eight I was friends with a girl who was a lot more popular than me and also went to a different school and a different church. There were a few months where she didn't contact me and I thought she has decided she hated me so I put in the effort to hate her back. It turns out she had a brain tumor and died and I didn't find out she had been sick until after she was dead...

I just found out yesterday that an old high school classmate of mine had the same cancer I had, within a few years of when I had it. I survived, and she didn't. It just feels so... weird. We weren't particularly close, and hadn't stayed in touch, but now I got to ask that most pointless of questions, to which I know there is no possible answer, "Why does one person live and not another?"
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:49 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]

I've had several death talks with my kids with no problems from age 2 on. Recently my oldest asked me what slavery was... ugh, I'll take discussing the cycle of life anytime over explaining how humans thought (think) owning people is ok.
posted by benzenedream at 11:11 PM on October 10

Also, it turned out right after the baby bird thing, that I didn't need to tell her about death anyway. She already had it (mostly) sorted.

She said, "Did you know we are all going to die?"
I said, "Yeah, one day."
She said, "You, and me, and mummy and daddy and everyone in the whole world."
I said, "I guess so."
She said, "Except for Santa Claus and god and aliens."
I said, "Maybe that means Santa Claus is an alien."
She said, "No, he's not. I saw him at the mall."
posted by lollusc at 1:10 AM on October 11 [10 favorites]

The concept of "going away" can be difficult for kids, but they somehow easily understand "this part of me is going with you."

You are wonderful.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 3:25 AM on October 11 [2 favorites]

Barnados has a good guide. Younger children find it hard to understand that death is irreversable and universal. Metaphors like "going to sleep" are a really bad idea.

I just mentioned once to my son ages ago that old people sometimes get a bit smaller, and he's latched onto that. He was (maybe still is despite my efforts) convinced that in the future I would get smaller and smaller until I was child-size as he grew up. He generously offered to put me in the back of the car and drive me to Grandma's.

I'm trying to give him a more realistic idea without terrifying him, but it's hard.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 5:09 AM on October 11

My 4-year-old is a little like Nicole Cliff's. He learned about death this July because his friend's mother died. We spent a few weeks having sad bedtime talks ("I don't want to die." "I know, sweetheart, nobody wants to die" "Yeah, but I REALLY don't want to die.") But then on the first day of school he ran right up to his friend and said, "Hey Pablo! Do you remember your mom died??"

I could have killed him.

There was nothing malicious in it, of course, it was just like, Oh hey, I'd forgotten about this thing that happened at the beginning of the summer until I saw you and all of a sudden I remembered. But I didn't even know I needed to plan for this sort of contingency when we were having our discussions about it.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 5:25 AM on October 11 [3 favorites]

My father-in-law died of a heart attack in July of this year, and then our sweet old dog had a rapid decline followed by euthanasia in September (the same week that our elder kid started kindergarten, which made everything harder). We were very matter-of-fact about the physical aspects of both events with my kids (ages four and five); both father-in-law and dog were cremated and they've seen the ashes. Right now my life is full of lots of little comments like "we wish the dog could come on this walk with us but he can't because he died" and "that buzzer was for grandpa's beard but he can't use it anymore because he's dead now... but Grandma could use it if she wants!"

We have talked a lot about how Grandpa didn't take care of his body (I don't think he'd seen a doctor of any kind in decades) and how we see a doctor regularly to make sure we're taking care of our bodies, and how our dog was sick in a way that the doctors couldn't make any better so they gave him a medicine to make him die (that is a very certain kind of medicine unlike any medicine they will take) because it was time for his body to be done working. I think we've read When Dinosaurs Die at least a hundred times. Since a few weeks after my father-in-law's death, my very empathetic four-year-old has occasionally needed me in her room at bedtime for reasons she can't articulate but I assume are related to fears of death. It's so hard to know what will make it better without making it worse in the long run.
posted by SeedStitch at 8:15 AM on October 11 [1 favorite]

You folks in this thread are doing some really good parenting.
posted by thelonius at 8:27 AM on October 11 [3 favorites]

I'm a day late to this thread, which is a shame because it means most contributors are going to miss this moving & delightful interview I did with my daughter about this subject:

Amelia Rose Duende on death
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 1:29 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]

I encourage you all to listen to slappy_pinchbottom's link, making sure not to miss the cheerfully delivered plot twist at about four and a half minutes in!
posted by little cow make small moo at 2:55 PM on October 11

I remember the first death, which was my grandfather. It didn't trouble me that much. I liked him, but we weren't close. I now wish we'd been closer, he was a really interesting person, but by the time I was forming memories about him he was in the later stages of emphysema and spent most of his time hooked up to oxygen in bed. Talking with him was more difficult and required more patience than I had at just a few years old.

He died in the middle of the night, and I think my parents were too tired and everything was too chaotic, with the ambulance and everything, for them to really sugar-coat it.

I took some time to think about it and process it before confronting my mom with the question of if she was going to die. She said yes, but hopefully not for a long time. I remember not feeling much comforted by that, and she just gave me a big hug in her lap for as long as it took for me to feel a bit better.

I wasn't concerned about dying myself. I think I accepted that idea from the moment I understood it, and at no point has it ever really disturbed me. The only thing that worries me about ME dying even now is the impact it might have on people close to me.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 9:35 PM on October 11

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