We live on a farm. My kids have seen chickens “born” and chickens die. Some of our chickens have died of old age, some of our chickens have been eaten by the dog, and some of our chickens have been eaten by us. My middle daughter casually calls this “the cycle of life.”
This past year a whole generation of our pets died off. For a while we even had a goldfish in the freezer awaiting official burial in our pet cemetery.
Does all this sound weird or morbid to you?
If so, maybe you need to visit our house for a while, where we talk openly about death -it naturally arises as a subject of curiosity for children and at times becomes a pressing conversation when we see it or come close to it in our daily lives.
As parents, our usual approach is simply to discuss dying (and related issues such as grief) as a natural part of life. We do not cower from the topic and are willing to talk about all aspects of how and why life ends.
So what’s the product of this type of open and casual conversation about death? How does it affect children?
Here are 4 examples from my family:
~My middle daughter, who is 10, said that when she turned 50 she was going to have a huge birthday party and that I was invited.
She asked, “Mommy how old will you be when I’m 50?
I said, “I’ll be 83!”
She asked, “Will you be in good health?”
My reply: “I don’t know and I may not even be alive at that time.”
Without hesitation she commented, “Well if you have already died and it was your time to go, I will be a little sad but I will still have a happy birthday because I know you would want me to do that. But if you are well and can come, then I will be very excited! But on the other hand, if you are living in the bed wearing a diaper and cannot enjoy yourself then it’ll be okay for you to go on at that time… that’ll be my birthday gift to you to be at peace and comfortable…” she was patting my hand as she conveyed this.
~When one of our pets died my oldest child, who is quite dramatic, was very upset. There was much weeping and wailing throughout the house. Then suddenly, things became very quiet. Walking into our sunroom to check on the kids, I found my two younger daughters holding the older sister and stroking her hair. The baby girl was telling her, “It’s okay to cry.” The middle daughter said, “I know it’s sad, but everything dies and it’s okay– that’s the way God made us.”
~My very own grandmother died while I was writing the book, “It’s OK to Die.” After I arrived back home from the hospital, I gathered my little girls around me to tell them that she was gone. We all began to weep. My oldest, at that moment in her wisdom, said- “I’m crying because I am sad for us but happy for her. She is no longer suffering.”
~Recently, my youngest had a serious bike accident and injured her neck in a way that could have been fatal. As 911 was called and amidst great panic and fear by the rest of us, she calmly asked, “Am I going to die?” (I was both relieved that she didn’t die and impressed that she had the equanimity to ask such a profound question in the midst of her own physical crisis.)
If all of this sounds very advanced to you…it is.
Yet, these are the effects of simply discussing death in the family setting. This is what happens when death is viewed as a part of life. This is what happens when children see chickens “born” and chickens die, and when parents talk openly about death and dying.
How do you talk to children about the end of life?
(photo credit- photobucket.com)
|Our Book: It's OK to Die|
"It's OK to Die" is a ground-breaking book filled with graphic stories straight out of the Emergency Room illustrating how most Americans are completely unprepared for death and dying. In response, the authors have created a unique and comprehensive guide urging EVERYONE to prepare in advance, to assure their own peace and to prevent the suffering of their loved ones.