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Archive for the ‘death’ Category

Questions

I was lying with Martin last night as he was falling asleep, telling him a story. I thought he had already drifted away; he was very still. Then he said, “Mom, when I am very old, are you going to be killed?” His voice broke, and he sobbed; I could see tears stream down his cheeks by the glow of the nightlight.

Uh-oh. My mind started racing. I believe in telling him the truth, worded appropriately for a three year old perspective, but this was not like telling him where the truck filled with stacked cages of chickens was heading on the highway the other day. How to say: Well, yes, I am going to die. Odds are, you’ll probably be in your fifties–that is, unless I succumb to one of the cancers that seem to cut down certain women in my family when they’re quite young–but, really, it could happen at any time, even tonight. . . . which would be, morbid as it is, the truth.

“I’m here right now,” I said, hugging him, “and I will be in the morning [please!] and I think I’ll be right here with you for so long it will feel like forever.”

He was still choking on his sobs; I could feel it in his little body as I held him. “But I’m going to have you when I’m three and four and five and six and seven, but then when I’m very old, you are going to fall off of a bridge and be killed.”

My odds of falling off a bridge to my death seem staggeringly low, and I reassured him on this point fairly well, and hoped that the conversation would turn to the various unlikely ways I could meet my end. I’d be on stable ground convincing him that a bald eagle wasn’t going to snatch me from the front yard, for instance. I wasn’t so lucky.

“Where will you go if you get killed? And where is Grammy’s family?”

I am not religious, but I sorely wished that I had a religion-based, this-is-what-happens-when-we-die answer for him. I had a fleeting thought of a mother, long ago, inventing the whole idea of heaven to soothe her child asking this very question…

I admitted that I didn’t know where people went when they got killed, but floundered for something remotely consoling. “Did you know that when I’m right here next to you, or somewhere else, or anywhere, you still have me with you? All the little pieces that make up your body are from Dad and me.” I went on a little in this vein, and he seemed to like it.

His last question: “If Dad gets killed, how is he going to teach people how to use computers?”

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Martin, from the beginning, has been fascinated by creatures. Sea and land, wiggly and slimy.

toad-friends

I wasn’t sure how much of nature he was ready for though, and when. Lions chasing down a baby elephant on a nature show? A snake grabbing and swallowing a frog? Is that violence and death that a child should be much older to see and understand, or is it nature and his world?

I didn’t need to wonder–Martin lets me know. If I startle at a, to me, somewhat gruesome image in the nature books he likes, Martin explains, yet again, always patiently, “That’s just the way nature works, Mom.” I wasn’t sure if he was just repeating a line from one of his favorite creature-adventurers, or if he really got it. I think he gets it. Yesterday, he elaborated on the death theme: “Mom, all creatures have to die someday. Even people die. You, me, Dad, Chris, Grammy, Gramps . . .” After he listed most of our family, I asked him, “But what will happen when we die?” I thought he’d guess that we woke up the next morning . . . but he paused and replied, “Well, then we become carcasses for vultures.”

Yikes. But his point was made. Death is just the way nature works.

My other worry was that the chasing and killing and fighting that is a part of the natural world would result in more aggressive behavior. Wrong again. Martin will catch grasshoppers and frogs, name them (usually “Dengy”), call them “toad-friend” or “grasshopper-friend,” give them water and grass. Then he tells me, “I am going to put my toad-friend back in his natural habitat.” And then, so gently, and with soft words of encouragement, he does.

(Reading this great post in My Fairbanks Life about childhood wisdom regarding nature and life cycles got me thinking about this subject…)

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