Monday, May 20, 2013

A Deep Talk About Death

"Mama, who's buried in there?"

We were walking by a graveyard.

I started to read some of the headstones. Jebediah. Lydia. Anna. Nathanial. 1806-1870. I didn't read the dates for those who died at 6 months or 10 years, but read names and ages for grownups as we walked along the sidewalk running parallel to the fence.

That wasn't good enough; P. wanted to know who they were.

What kind of people.

"I don't know, lovebug," I said. "They lived and died before I was born. Before babushka was born or even GG was born. We never met them."

P. chewed on this for a while as we walked along past more rows of markers. I knew she was thinking about the people in the graveyard, but her next question surprised me.

"Why do people die when they get old?"

"Well, because bodies are like machines and after a long time parts start to wear out. Bodies only last so long."

"But why do they have to die?"

I was suddenly thinking about lobsters, which have self-repairing DNA, but thought that particular information would be less than helpful in the moment.

"Everything that's alive dies. People and animals and plants all die after a while. People live a long, long time. Different things die at different times."

Why, why, why - so many whys. No good answers. So I speculated.

"If no one died, if no thing ever died, the earth would get filled up and filled up and there'd be no space left to move."


"Because more and more people and things would be born, but none would die."

 We walked on and P. was uncharacteristically quiet. I asked her what she was thinking about.

"I wish no one had to die" she said.

 You and everyone else, little one.

how babby formed

What have you told your children about death?


  1. Oof. Yeah. I could have written this post. In fact I've been thinking about doing just that! With Great Grandma Ruth dying in March and the turtles dying in April Ev has been preoccupied with death in a very anxious way. We went to visit Christopher's mom, who happened to be at her mom's house trying to box things up, and Ev asked if we were going to die because we were going to Grandma Ruth's house. Then he asked if people had died in all the houses in her neighborhood. I'm counting my blessings that Christopher's aunt seems to be doing so well right now (cancer) and I'm thankful he doesn't know that one of her horses died recently. Too much death already this year.

    1. It's weird, because you have a framework for Ev to be asking the questions, but I don't even know how P. knew there were dead people in the cemetery or why death has been on her mind!

  2. It hasn't come up so much yet. She's definitely used the word "died" to describe bugs and dogs but I'm not sure the connection has been made with people. At her age, my father passed away and it took me awhile to fully grasp that.

    1. I wonder if it's just part of the process of trying to understand what the word means and what the concept means. So they kind of experiment with it in play and conversation.

  3. Oh Paloma, the why is hard even for grownups to understand.

  4. Aw. This is always such a hard conversation. Their "whys" are always good questions and I never have the perfect answer. My daughter once asked "is everyone old when they die" it was just heartbreaking. GAH. These are just hard questions.

  5. My girls found a dead goldfinch in the backyard. It had flown into our kitchen window and didn't survive. At three, it's hard to explain death. We told the girls that the bird got a very bad booboo and died. Then they helped my husband bury it in the yard. We only answered the questions that were asked: Why is the bird sleeping on the ground? Why isn't it flying away. They were satisfied with our answers, so we left it there.

  6. My daughter knows death. She told me a I "died" her snail friend that I accidentally stepped on. I don't think she knows that people die. I know it's a matter of time but I am not prepared, I am not ready for this heavy conversation! I hope the answer will magically pop into my head when she asks


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