Maybe it’s Halloween and the plethora of skeletons and zombies and other spooky goings on, but the conversation in our house has definitely taken a turn for the macabre recently. If you’re feeling a bit wobbly this post might not be for you today, but Miss Tot has just turned four, and with it seems to have developed a whole new thirst for knowledge. The “Whys?” are coming thick and fast, and she has now started to pull out the really (really, really) big guns:
“What is dead?”
As a family we have been extremely lucky as we haven’t lost any of our nearest and dearest for many years, and certainly not since we have had the children (reaches to touch wood). The nearest that Miss Tot has come to questioning anything to do with death has been coming across a dead tree (“broken tree”) and a squashed frog on the road (again – “broken”). At the start of our recent holiday in Wales she came across a “broken” bird. She questioned a little around what was wrong with it and when it would come back, but seemed happy to accept that it just wouldn’t and that was that.
We then went on to spend a particularly cloudy and grim afternoon driving to a beautiful secluded bay, which we found was overlooked by an ancient ruined church and historic graveyard. The Tots were both wrapped up warm against the wind and were having fun chasing around and exploring the ruins while “Daddy Pig” and I took in the breathtaking view.
After a while the Tots’ playing got a little more boisterous (standard), and they had started to play around the graves, which of course we didn’t feel was appropriate or respectful. I went to grab Mstr Tot, whilst behind me I could hear the hubby calmly explaining to Miss Tot that this was a special place where people were laid to rest once they had died, and that we shouldn’t climb on the stones as they are very precious. The floodgates were opened.
I will never forget that journey home. The questions (understandably) came at us faster than we could have expected, and hardly gave us chance to glance at each other, let alone take time to talk about what we would say or how we would approach the subject. This resulted in a number of U-Turns along the way. I started to explain that dying was just like going to sleep at the end of your life, but then hubby quite rightly pointed out that this might leave her feeling afraid to sleep. We have always agreed that we will be honest with our children (rightly or wrongly), and so we didn’t want to make anything up that she might then question or lose confidence in trusting us with later on. We explained that death is when a person’s body doesn’t work any more. That once a person is dead they no longer move or breathe, they don’t need to eat or drink, they don’t talk and they can’t see or hear anything. We also explained that some people chose to be buried under the ground to keep their bodies safe to rest.
“But when will they come back?”
We explained that people don’t come back once they have died. That it happens to us all, but that for most of us it won’t happen until we are very old. The questions continued all the way home in the car and ever since. There have been several times when both the hubby and I have had to blink back tears as she has said “But I will never die will I?” and the more recent “When I die, Mummy and Daddy will be waiting for me won’t you?”
We tried to help her visualize that she is right at the beginning of her life by counting to 100 with her, and when we got to 4 we pointed her out, then stopping at 30 (mumbles) as we pointed ourselves out, followed by grandparents and her great-grandmas. We have tried to answer as truthfully and gently as we can, without sugar-coating too much, but still just trying to put it into terms that she can come to understand. We did a little reading up to help us field the continued questions over the coming weeks. The same questions are asked again and again as she tries to process what we have explained. Her own take on it is still a little creative, but she seems to be accepting the general concept and is quite comfortable talking about it. All. The. Time.
Our nearest and dearest have been pre-warned of the inevitable questions which seem to be popping up at the most random of times, including Miss Tot’s key worker at nursery. The first week back after holidays went well, until the last day where I was met at the gate to collect her and her (brilliant) teacher said to me with a very straight face: “It happened.” Apparently Miss Tot had selected a very quiet lunch time, while everyone was eating, to announce to her teacher across the table: “You know when people die? – They dig down and get in a hole!” As I understand it her teacher blinked at her a few times and said “Yes. That’s exactly right. Would you like some cucumber?” (See – told you – brilliant – I love her!)
Even this could not have prepared me for the big one. The one that with hindsight was always going to happen, but there was just no preparing for. You can picture the scene: A lovely drive out in the country to visit “Great Grandma Chicken”. Thus called as she lives by herself and despite being nearly 90, tends her own beautiful garden, breeds and walks Labradors, cooks like an angel, and keeps chickens. Upon arrival the conversation went a little bit like this:
“Hi Grandma Chicken. You know when people die, they dig down under the ground, and they don’t need to eat anything and they don’t come back up. But it doesn’t happen until you get very very very very very old…. Like you.”
It was at this point that I wanted the ground to swallow me up.
All this aside we can tell that she is coming to accept it now, and doesn’t seem to be dwelling on it too much. She seems to have very much taken it in her stride – unlike her mum who has been shaken to the core by the whole experience. The sheer responsibility of how to handle these questions was overwhelming at first. The way that we handle it could effect her profoundly, and it was entirely down to us to decide what to say. We aren’t particularly religious people, but personally I like to think that a part of us lives on in some way – maybe just in the memories that we leave behind, maybe in other ways that we don’t yet understand. I’m hoping that we have said the right things – but time will tell.
In the meantime, the rhymer that I am felt the need to capture something that I could maybe share with both my tots one day. Maybe I never will. Maybe they will find it for themselves one day, maybe they will think it’s a load of waffle? Whatever the case, it makes me feel better to know that it’s out there for them:
A little poem for my little ones:
Our bodies are precious, amazing and strong.
But somewhere inside sometimes things can go wrong.
The doctors and nurses might all do their best.
But one day, our hearts will be ready to rest.
For most of us many long years will go past
Our bodies are clever and built well to last.
But each of us have our own time to move on,
And it feels very sad when a person is gone.
We miss them a lot, and we might shed a tear,
We miss all their cuddles and wish they were near.
But try not to worry and not to be scared,
As we keep with us all of the good times we’ve shared.
And though we can’t see them, they’ve not gone away,
They’re always still there – like a star in the day.
Their bodies have gone, but they’re still there above,
And they shine all their memories and cuddles and love.
We don’t have the hows and the whens and the whys.
But one thing I can promise you – love never dies.
We can all carry on in the heart and the mind
Of each special person we leave far behind.
So whenever we go and wherever we are,
Our love doesn’t fade, it shines bright like a star.
And wherever we are and whenever we go,
We’ll still be together, just so that you know.