Monday, 23 April 2012

What Happens to People When They Die, Mommy?

It happened as we walked down the street, hungry for lunch.  Your sister had just fallen asleep after a half hour tantrum and Daddy and Mommy, in our very irritable state, had just finished a loud debate over pyjamas versus nighties, which had left us both silent. Then from my right, this little voice crept up my tense shoulders and asked "Mommy, what happens when you die?" It was your new thing. For the last few weeks, you had asked several questions about how and why people die and compared their age to Grandma and Grandpa's. It seemed to make you feel better when I assured you that they were much older than Grandma and Grandpa.

I couldn't screw this one up as I did the last important question. It was during your religion era when you asked to have a book of bible stories and I suggested Disney tales as the better option. You were not best pleased.  You did disgust well that day.

The last time you experienced death was when you were just three and Casey Dog died. Daddy and I cuddled you while we explained that Casey's body had stopped working because she was old and sickly. We stated clearly that she was dead.  I didn't use any euphemisms.  I had learned to speak in absolutes so that you would understand the finality.

You did not.

You begged for me to bring her back.  You declared your love for her. As the days passed, your insistence became more fervent and frequent and I was reminded of why the dog food  no longer was being emptied and I found a corner to cry in. Your father again explained that Casey would never come back because she was dead. However, you would still search me out in my room, the corner of it, and demand that I bring her back.  You blamed me for her leaving and you blamed me for her not returning, that is, until you stayed with Grandma. She explained to you about angels and how they lifted Casey to heaven where she ran through fields with new friends and ate sirloin steak.  She explained how her mother, who was kind and liked to throw balls to dogs and pet dogs, was taking good care of her.  From then on, when you found me, it was to talk about what angels look like and to ask if that lady really was as kind as Grandma said. We wondered what Casey was doing and hoped that she was having fun because she must have been missing us too.  I remember you turning to me, cuddling in and saying, "But, I still wish she was here with me." I pulled you on my lap, held you tight, so you couldn't see the glazing over of my eyes and I whispered, my chin on your head, "Yeah, me too."

"I am not exactly sure what happens after death, since I have never experienced it." I don't know why I felt the need to clarify that point. "I know that death is when the body stops working. Your hands stop holding and legs stop being able to stand. Your eyes stop looking. Your breath no longer comes out of your mouth and your heart no longer beats. Usually, it is when you are old and very very sickly and your body just can't continue."

I looked at you looking at your feet and the litter on the road.  You squinted your eyes and looked up at me, starting to phrase a new thought. I stopped you, "Wait, I am not done. I believe that everyone has a soul, Pumpkin."
"A soul?" you questioned.
"Yes, a soul is where love is created and held."
"Where is the soul, Mommy?"you looked down at your body.
 "I am not sure but I think that it would be right about there," and I pointed to your chest.
"There, why there?" you asked.
"Because it is where your heart is and when I am happy or sad. I feel it mostly in my heart."
"Hmmm," you answer with an acquiescent nod.

"Your soul doesn't die; it simply is no longer in a body. I know that this is true because when my father died, I no longer saw him or heard him or could  touch him but I could feel his love. I could feel it all around me. I also believe that a little bit of that soul  dripped into me, probably into my brain," I smoothed down your hair, "because I have such wonderful memories of him."
"What was he like?"
 "He was wonderful. He had lots of friends because he was honest and funny, always with a good joke to tell. I think that your Uncle Steven has his laugh and Aunty Susan was given his ability to be a good friend."
You stopped and looked at me, "And you , Mommy?"
I stopped and looked back at you, quiet for a second, "I would like to think that I was given those things also but, most importantly, I would like to think that I was given his amazing ability to love his family." You smiled at me.

The conversation then turns into what my father was like, what he looked like, who looked like him and how did he die. However, by the time we reached the restaurant the conversation had changed again into which was the best table and how hungry we were. Your father took my hand and we smiled. I looked down at the menu but thought instead about the legacy my father left and the legacy his father left and realised that there is no such thing as absolute finality.


  1. Lovely blog. The Invisible child post has really touched me. My 4 year old is also talking about death just now, usually to say "I dont want you to die mummy!", Im not sure where this has come from. Parenting is a minefield, you never want to sa the wrong thing & screw them up!

  2. Hi Jen,
    Our kids come up with such important and perfectly reasonable questions, but sometimes there is no real answer. Thank you for the comments on my other post. I try to vary the nature of the posts. Invisible Child was about deciding to complete your family, which can be a difficult choice.

  3. Starting my mornings with your blog warms my heart!

    1. What a lovely thing to say and what a poetic way to say it. Thank you.

  4. Sharon, I greatly enjoy the fact that you ask important questions both about existence, and also about how to communicate understanding.

  5. You piece on explaining death to a child is very insightful. I really enjoy reading your blog

    1. I am so glad you enjoyed it. It can be challenging to write about certain subjects and try to express the emotions and confusion that accompany those topics.