Henry, who turned five a couple of weeks ago, has recently realized his own mortality. We haven’t had anything drastic happen to bring this on, I think he finally put it all together. It’s been an eye opening experience going through this with him.
A year ago we lost our thirteen year old dog, Max. Henry only knew life with Max in it. When he died, he understood Max was gone. A couple months later I realized he only thought he was gone from our home. We saw a dog at the Texas State Fair that looked a lot like Max and he started flipping out. He was so excited to of found Max. After a bit of convincing, he (kind of) realized the dog wasn’t Max. The moment was a little heart breaking.
Max came up again not too long ago. We were having a conversation about our new dog, Scout. He asked if I was going to take her away like I did with Max. I’m sure I was griping about the dog doing something silly, but the comment took me aback. I asked what he meant and he explained that I must of gotten mad or tired of Max and took him away. Now I’m tired of Scout and soon she’ll go away. Another heart breaking moment!
I quickly explained that we loved Max very much and would of never given him away. He was just an old dog and he got sick and died. Which means he’s gone forever. He’s not anywhere else (actually he’s in a box on the book shelf). Then I insisted that Scout is part of our family and is going nowhere. He was quiet after, which isn’t abnormal for him, and we all went on about our business.
A few weeks later he started asking questions about death at the dinner table. Mainly if we were going to die and quickly before we could even answer, if he was going to die. I don’t remember saying anything at first, he went right into not wanting to die or any of us to die. The first time you have to say out loud to your child that, “yes, some day you will die,” is a little hard to push out of your throat.
It concerned him. He made worry dolls at school so they could hold the worries for him. There were a lot of extra hugs with little comments about not liking death. We kept on with the conversation as it came up and kept on being very honest.
We had a few nights that there were some tears shed over this. Henry was upset that we would die first. I agreed that it would be sad, but it’s the order things should go. That it shouldn’t happen for a LONG time, but that babies aren’t supposed to die before their Mommas. He threw in a sucker punch somewhere during that conversation that I’m not young. Grrr.
He still had a couple nights that he just sat there defeated. Repeating that he didn’t want to die. That he’d never want to die. I sat down and told him that life works in a funny way. That most people, that have been good in their life and tried to live with no regrets were actually prepared for death once they were much older. We talked about people I knew in their 80 and 90s that were ready when their time came. He was surprised to hear this. I think it’s a little over his head, but I wanted him to know that if you live a full life, there is comfort in being done.
A week or so had past since our last real conversation about death, when we drove past a funeral at the cemetery by his school. He asked if that’s where I go to have my meeting for work. Ha! He had no idea that was a cemetery (or what a cemetery was). I explained that they were all there saying good-bye to someone that had died. It came up that it was a cemetery, people were there to pay their last respects, and then the person was buried. I quickly added that the person had been dead for a few days. The little guy’s mind is creative. I need to make sure that it was CLEAR they weren’t there watching someone die.
He’s comment back was, “the dead people are put in the ground?” That’s right. In a box. His face. He thinks we are all crazy. I guess we’ll cover the cemetery and that process later. I can only imagine his face when he learns about cremation. We’ll hold off on that for awhile I think.
I’m happy Henry talks to us when things such as this come up in his mind. It isn’t easy all the time, but he deserves the time to get straight and honest answers. It has to be scary learning about your own mortality. It’s scary to hold his hand through his journey of understanding it.