Wednesday, 14 November 2012

how to explain death to a child ~ any bright ideas?

I found out yesterday that our elderly neighbour died last week.  Her husband of over fifty five years died two summers ago, and her health had been declining fast since.

It got me thinking ~ how do people tell their children about death?  Is it an issue that is simplified by religious belief, or complicated by it?  Do the notions of heaven or re-incarnation or other denominational continuation provide some level of closure, or do they extend the period of grief by neglecting to include an end point?

The first time we spoke to the children about death it was because our cat had died.  We explained she was dead, she wouldn't eat or move around any more, we were going to bury her in the garden, and they could see her first or watch us putting her in the ground if they wanted. They were only three, four and five, but we wanted to demystify the process as much as we could.  I cried, they cried, we all cried.  But in the way children do, they moved on pretty quickly.

Some of this I want to come back to another day, but first I'd like to ponder the problems of language associated with death.  Why do we all have such difficulty with the phrasing?  So many euphemisms ~ we lost our dog (are you expecting to find him again?); the hamster passed on (a particularly tragic round of scrabble perhaps?; the rabbit was put down (put down what? Down the hole? Isn't that after the dying bit?).

I'm sure I inspired a few interesting staffroom conversations when our next pet death occurred ~ "the hamster died yesterday.  He isn't sleeping, he isn't in heaven, he's dead.  It wasn't for the best, he isn't better off now, he isn't looking down on us, he's dead.  He isn't coming back, he isn't happier now, he's dead.". Yep, I'm sure I came across as a really sensitive kind hearted parent that day!

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