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Friday, February 19, 2010

Conversations with my Kid - Talking about Death

The memory is vivid.

I am standing in my jammies at the end of our hallway. I am leaning against the corner of the wall peering into the living room and I am hidden from my parents' view. They are sitting on our yellowish-flowery 1960's sofa cuddled close looking happy. The glow of the television flickers on their faces.

I stare at them. Loving them. Needing them. And my five-year-old brain is riddled with fear.

"I don't ever ever want my parents to die," I think.

It's the scariest thought I have ever had in my entire five-year-old life. And my eyes well with tears but I do not run out to them to hug them close and tell them how I feel. I do not seek comfort from their loving arms. I return to my room and when I'm under the covers with a soft pillow under my head, I let those scary thoughts slip away with sleep.


The memory is vivid.

I am a mother of a 5-year-old girl, a 3-year-old girl and a two month old baby boy. It's a sunny weekend summer afternoon and I am sitting on the back deck letting the sun warm my soul while my infant boy sleeps in his baby chair at my feet.

The girls emerge from the side of the house after a mini-adventure seeing what mysteries a side of the house holds. They have seen a bird. And the bird was not moving.

My 5-year-old, my Claire, asks me, "Why wasn't the bird moving mama?"

"The bird was dead, honey."


"Yes, honey, the bird was dead. It is with God now."

"Will the bird ever open his eyes again?"

"No, honey. The bird won't open his eyes here on earth. But he may be opening his eyes in heaven."

She pauses as her 5-year-old brain considers this information. And then -

"Are you going to die mama?"

My heart skips a beat as I did not consider this next line of questioning. And my mind must have flashed back to my own fearful 5-year-old soul and now I am a mama and I am not prepared for this and my eyes well with tears and my brain races to try and explain this inexplicable destiny we all share and I answer -

"No honey. Mama's not gonna die."


The memory is vivid.

I am a mother of a 7-year-old girl, a 5-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy. We are in the midst of the chaos that is bath and bedtime. Clothes are being ripped off, our master bathtub is filling, toys are being thrown in over the side, the day's energy is still jumping off their young skin and as their mama, I hope the warm water will settle them for sleep.

My 7-year-old, Claire jumps in with a entourage of Little Pony characters to aid in her bath time storyline, and my Tommy tells me he's ready to "Get in!" I lift him in the tub and he joins Claire in play.

I turn to help my 5-year-old, Phoebe, get in the tub and she stands there with tears brimming.

"Mama, I don't want you to die."

I drop to my knees in front of her sweet face and "Oh honey, why are thinking about this?"

"I just know that you are going to die and I don't want you to die."

I've grown in my motherhood since the dead bird incident. I've lost two important people in my life since then and my girls have watched me grieve. They were by my side through the funerals of both my grandma and my aunt in the last two years. I've been given a reason to talk about death in a very real way to them.

So I say to Phoebe, "I know you don't want me to die, honey. I don't want to die either. And don't you worry, it's gonna be a real long time before I die."

"I wish I were 42 like you mama," she says. "Because if I were 42 like you, we would die at the same time. And I want to die with you mama."

And I am kneeling and staring into her tear-filled eyes and my eyes well with tears and I say, "You and me are the same baby. We have the same heart, Phoebes. I know exactly how you feel. I really, really do."

"You do?"

"Yep, I do. And I know it's scary to think about me dying and I know it's hard to understand. It's hard for me to understand to. I don't know anything for sure about dying but I do know that God will take care of us when we die and that we will be in a very happy place."

"And if you die before me, mama and then I die, will I get to see you again in heaven?"

"Yes, Phoebes, you will. All of us. We will all be together forever after we die."

And with that explanation, she wiped her tears, and I hugged her sweet lil' soul wrapped up in a 5-year-old body.

Then, she jumped in the tub, grabbed a pony, and started playing.

I walked around the corner of the bathroom and let the tears fall. This death conversation is tough. As a mother, I want to take away the tears and the fear and the unknown and I can't.

It's the one mystery that will never be solved in life.

But I've learned I can give them one thing to ease the fear.



If you have a "Conversation with My Kid" post that you are sharing, please link your post to Mr. Linky below. Just copy your post's URL and paste it into Mr. Linky and then I can check it out.

Thanks for reading and listening and sharing. Truly.

Have a great weekend.


  1. Sweet...and so sad, however age appropriate I think. My five year old has been bringing up death (specifically mine and my husband's) more so recently, as are similarly aged kids of friends. I think it's natural to be curious, especially if they're beginning to see it in their own lives, i.e. our beloved family dog and my husband's father 'Pop Pop.' I try to explain it as honestly, kindly, and comprehensively as I can, all the while stifling the tears that are welling up as I look into his young, earnest and worried little face. *sniff* Great post...xox

  2. i think i just swallowed my heart and may have wished that beans stay two forever and ever and never ask me that question.

    you handled it with such grace mama.

  3. Wow. Thanks for making me cry. My colleagues thought I was crazy, now they have proof.

    Well done.

  4. Lovely post. And a good way to handle it. I'm not going to participate in Conversations with my Kid this week cause we just haven't had any good conversations that don't involve me yelling at him. :)

  5. Great post. We're humanists and so God and afterlife aren't part of what we discuss when our toddler daughter wants to talk about death. Admittedly, she is very young, just three. Unfortunately, there has been opportunity to talk about it recently. It is so difficult to find the right tone. It would make it easier perhaps to be able to use an afterlife. Instead we talk about always carrying memories of the person in our minds and in our hearts.

  6. Wonderful post. I would lay awake sobbing over the thought of losing my parents. It still causes me a lot of anxiety...however, I do think having my own children spread my anxiety out a I worry about losing them or leaving them without a mother.

    I love the growth you showed in each story.
    You have a new reader!

    I also liked the honesty in the post about not using your phone in the car!

  7. Lee, this is such a beautiful piece of writing. When you are writing from your heart, it just pours out.

    Such a big issue, my friend. I don't know how to talk about it with them, either. Especially with my sensitive one. It's hard. Super hard.

    xo elizabeth

  8. Unfortunately we have also dealt with death in the last couple of years. My oldest has an awareness of it that makes me teary. But we haven't yet had conversations or questions about the inevitability of my death, or his father's. I can imagine that when this day comes I will be stunned, and weeping.

    Had written a post earlier today that just happened to have a little conversation in it. I was going to link it up but it doesn't stand up so well to a conversation about death so I let it slide. Then I read Elizabeth's piece and thought, okay, why not. So I'm back and I'm linked up.

    And cheers. Glad I've found you here. You sound like me, but with a better tagline. Supermoms being a state of mind? Brilliant. And right on!


  9. Actual car ride conversation:

    Rachel: "Mommy , do you wish Poppy wasn't dead?"
    Me: "Yes, dolly, I really do."
    Rachel: "Mommy, look at that tree. If I could climb that tree to the tippety top, I could touch
    the clouds and go up to heaven and say hi to Poppy for you"
    Me: "I wish you could do that angel, I really do."
    Rachel: "Mommy, is Poppy love the same as Mommy love?"
    Me: (sniff, snorfle) "Yes, is the same"
    Rachel: "I am glad I have puppy love"

    -reach for that tissue now, folks - go ahead, it's okay.

  10. So sweet and heartbreaking! Your answers to her questions and fears were so perfect and loving..such inspiration.

  11. Please do not ever pshaw your writing or your blog to me again.

    I MEAN IT.

    That was so true. As in true blue, genuine. AUfuckingTHENTIC.

  12. What a precious gift to give your little ones -- faith.

    I'm so glad I found your blog!

    Come on over for some mom encouragement and inspiration!

  13. Oh Lee, isn't that the hardest? I mean, how can we even explain this concept to our kids when we struggle to understand it and accept it ourselves? Ugh.

    I've been there with our older two when my mom passed away 2 years ago and together we had some of the hardest talks I've ever had in my life. So, so, so hard.

    This was beautiful writing, friend!

  14. oh i feel ya on this one. from the daughter perspective AND the mom perspective. i used to be paralyzed with fear of anything happening to my parents. specifically my mom. kind of ironic, given how things have played out as i've grown, huh?

    and bean STILL struggles with this now. he over thinks it and is NOT a fan of the concept of 'eternal'... even if it is eternal happiness in heaven. and, of course, he also worries about his brother.

    it's all so complex and sad.

  15. Kids are so innocent, aren't they?

  16. Way to go mama.

    It's so hard to come up with what to say in those situations although you seemed to have handled it perfectly.


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