Monday, July 30, 2012

Explaining Death to Children, Part II

There will be a Part III later this week, unfortunately.  We have been preparing Samantha for the next inevitability, letting her know that Addy is very sick and will be joining Delilah in heaven very soon.  That he won't be coming back. 

"Really?" she says, sounding interested, like you've just told her she can choose between a chocolate chip cookie and an ice cream cone for dessert.  "I can go, too?"  Ahhh, the clincher...

I respond patiently, "No, baby, you can't go, too.  They're not coming back."

"They won't be sick anymore?"

"No, honey.  They'll feel much better."

While she acts like she doesn't quite know what the heck I'm talking about, I know what defense mechanisms she has in place, like the one where she looks at me, all wide-eyed, interested, and says, "Really?"  It is a defense for her.  She may not quite understand what's being explained, but she pretends she does, storing it in her mind until a later connection can be made, until she can put all of the fragments together to form the cohesive idea that's been presented.

Flipping through the photos on my cell phone, she gets excited when she comes to the photo of Delilah.  "Look mommy, it's Delilah!"  Gently, sweetly, she touches the image to her lips, a soft, butterfly of a kiss, and says, "I love you, Delilah."  Gets me every time.

Driving home from visiting a friend yesterday, through the absolutely gorgeous rolling hills and dense forest of Southern Pennsylvania and into Northern Virginia, I pointed out a young faun standing on the side of the road, watching the cars pass by.  I siezed the moment to throw in a lesson that's been rolling through my head for some time, presenting a real challenge to me on how to best teach it.

"Sammi, I hope that baby deer doesn't run out into the street...if he does he'll get hit by a car."

Sammi was listening.  "Really?  He'll go to the doctor?"

I briefly tossed around the idea of treading carefully with this, but thought the direct approach may be the one to drive the point home most effectively.  "No, honey, he'll be dead."  Gah, did I really just say that??  Does she even understand what dead means?  She does understand die in two separate contexts - I told her Delilah died.  She also knows to refer to the need for the Toshiba tablet to be charged by saying the battery died.  Good enough.

"He'll go to heaven?"

Yes!  She does understand!  "Yes, baby.  He'll go to heaven, and he won't come back.  That's why it's so important to *not run away* and to hold mommy's and daddy's hands when you cross the street and to look *both* ways to make sure cars aren't coming."  (I have a little blog post about impulse control waiting in the wings... And, I might add, this was a much less harsh way to teach this particular lesson than the one I was considering, a suggestion made by someone recently to show her the flat remains of fresh roadkill...)

Got it.

I let it lie after that.



Deborah said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your cat. Our dog passed away last summer, and our whole family was devastated. The explanations are hard.

Lisa said...

Cate asked me if we could go get our dog for months - she does the same thing, pretends she understands a concept while she is gathering little pieces of info until one day they all click together. Then again once we got her the cat she wanted she stopped asking - did she play me or get distracted enough to let it go, that is the unanswered question.

my family said...

so sorry you are having to explain death...such a difficult concept for concrete learners sounds like she may have it though.

the road kill suggestion does sound gross but i had to laugh...william would say "WOW! cool!HA