"Jack's dead." Piper informed me this morning, "He's in the graveyard."
Jack, for clarification, is a black stuffed cat that we bought for Piper at Target a couple of years ago. He's pretty ragged as all loved stuffed animals are. He has a small tear on his forehead with a bit of stuffing come out. One of his eyes is about to fall off. But Piper loves him. She carries him everywhere, to the pool, the playground. Jack has even been to Mexico. But now Jack is dead (although he just had a miraculous recovery).
My kids have not really talked much about death until recently. We (perhaps foolishly) rented them "Marley and Me." We came upstairs as the movie was winding down, and Marley, an old dog, was sick and about to die. I sobbed through the whole death scene, and Camille who was already upset, became even more upset at seeing me cry. She started crying herself, inconsolable for about an hour at which point the trauma over the dying dog, turned into an intense longing for Umberto who was a friend's house. Eventually she wore herself out and fell asleep.
The first thing she told Umberto when he came home, was "I saw a dead body on a movie."
Camille has seemed to move on but Piper who acted totally calm throughout the whole scene ("The dog is dead." she stated matter-of-factedly) has been talking about death nonstop. She asked us if the dog was old (which he was), what happens to the body in the ground, and tells us "He had a good life" (which is what I told Camille when she was crying). Coupled with a book that H got them from the library called "Big Cat Pepper" which is about a cat dying, the kids have suddenly become quite interested in death.
At night, when Piper lies beside me, she asks "Mama are you old?" And I know the question really is "Mama are you going to die?" And I am always unsure of how to answer that question. There is a part of me that wants to reassure her that I'm not going to die anytime soon but then there's that nagging part that whispers "You don't really know that." I'm concerned that Piper has now connected death to old age because death doesn't come to just the old. But is a four year old able to handle that she could loose her mama at anytime? And boy does it make me feel that I need to do things like quit smoking, and go the doctor's more. Because I do hope that it's old age that takes me and not cancer. I don't want to leave my beasties anymore than they want me to go.
Perhaps some of this struggling to talk about death comes from not knowing what I believe about death myself. I know it scares me to comprehend of a time when I no longer exist. But I don't know what I believe happens afterwards. I'm not an atheist but I'm not a believer of anything else. I just don't know and when it comes to talking to my kids about death, I have a hard time trying to give them something concrete when there's nothing concrete for myself. Trying to put into words what I don't have words for is no easy thing.
I thought when I had kids that the worries would be about things like taking care of them, feeding them, making sure they were safe, educated, etc. But I'm learning with each passing year that having kids is also about dealing with the "big" questions. My kids are capable of deeper levels of thinking that border on the philosophical. And maybe they're capable of exploring as I'm exploring. Perhaps I expect too much of myself. It maybe that thinking about death, about what we think, and believe and do about death is an exploration that we can embark on together as opposed to one person trying to shape for the whole.