I took the kids over to my mom’s house the other day and we found a dead bird on her porch. My mom, a friend of hers, the kids and I were trying to figure out how to deal with it (no big deal for those of us from the land o’ scorpions) when my two-year-old son asked, “What happened to the birdie? Why is it sleeping there?”
My mom and her friend looked at each other and then at me, and both seemed really uncomfortable. I interrupted their hemming and hawing about the birdie going night-night and just said, “The birdie died. That means that he’s going to live in a place where we can’t see him, and just his body is going to stay here.” Not high theology, I know. It was just the first thing that came to mind.
My mom’s friend pulled me aside later and said, “Isn’t it a bit early to be talking to him about DEATH?!”
I actually hadn’t thought about it. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal to explain the concept to him and I didn’t have any plans to withhold the big “death discussion” until he was at a certain age. I can’t tell if I’m on the right track or if maybe I’m being way too laid back about it. I’m still so psyched about the whole “God exists” thing that maybe I’m not sensitive to others’ trepidation about the subject.
I was still an atheist when my son was born. At some point when he was a baby the subject of talking to your kids about death came up, and it made me feel so depressed. How on earth can I ever break it to him?, I thought. Is there maybe some Barney episode that could handle this one for me, where he sits down with the kids and explains that everybody will die one day? Maybe he could incorporate a little song to soften the part about how there’s no eternal soul or memory beyond the grave so you simply cease to exist. But then you just know that that nosy kid with the glasses is going to ask, “But Barney, doesn’t that mean that my existence and all of human history is utterly meaningless?”, and then Barney’s going to do something like rhyme “abject despair” with “a fun day at the fair” to the tune of Pop Goes the Weasel and just annoy me further.
Back then death used to be this thing too dreadful to think about. Something so profoundly depressing that I rushed the thought from my mind whenever it came up — and certainly not anything I wanted my kids to think much about. So it was one of the most wonderful moments of my conversion when it occurred to me that if all this stuff that I had come to believe on an intellectual level was really true…then…death isn’t something to fear anymore. You’d have to be a convert from atheism to understand how it feels when you first realize that.
And although I’m sure it will be a difficult, painful thing to work through when we experience the shock of losing someone close to us, death as a general concept is not something that it even occurred to me to shy away from since my conversion. My take on is something like, “Yeah, we all die, and that’s kind of freaky when you first think about it, but I have some really, really good news for you on that matter…”
But I can’t help but wonder if I’m missing something. Am I too nonchalant about all this with my kids? How do you all approach the topic in your family?
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