Death. I start talking about it little so that when it comes around in a bigger way it is a familiar topic.
Keenie: bug! Its not moving!
Me: its dead.
Keenie: oh. Dead. lady bug move?
Me: No, its dead. It won’t move anymore. It drowned.
Keenie:sad. Dead. All done. Bye bye ladybug.
Alexander: whys it dead?
Me:it was in the pool too long.
Alexander:but I got it out!
Me: it was already dead.
Alexander: is it still dead?
Alexander:but I got it out.
Keenie: dead. Sad!
Me: you did get it out, but once something dies you cant make it alive again.
Alexander: do you remember when I got the other beetle out and it was still alive?
Me: I do. You saved it.
Alexander: and it wasn’t dead.
Me:no, you saved it so it wasnt dead.
Keenie: saved it!
Alexander: but I saved this one too.
Me: you tried, love. But it was already dead.
Alexander: oh. I am sorry.
Me: I am sorry, too.
Alexander: will we be dead too if we are in the pool?
Me: only if you get stuck under the water. That is why a grownup needs to be with you to make sure you never get stuck.
Me: remember when Keenie fell and couldn’t stand up and I helped her?
Me: until you learn to swim the water is dangerous unless an adult is watching to help you back up.
Alexander: is that why I cant swim unless you watch me? Would I be dead?
Me: yes. I need to watch you while you swim until you are big.
Alexander: you keep me safe.
Alexander: like I keeped that beetle safe.
Alexander: I wish I could have keeped the ladybug safe, then he wouldnt be dead.
Me: Are you sad?
Me: Do you need a hug?
And he ran to the side of the pool we hugged for a bit before we started talking about something else.
We have talked about death before. “Why’s the deer laying there?” “It’s dead.” “Why is it dead?” “It got hit by a car.” “Oh.”
“Is the caterpillar dead?” “No, it spun a cocoon. It will turn into a moth and fly away.”
“Grandma Donna is sad because her little dog died.” “Why’d she die?” “She was very old and sick and her body was broken and not working anymore, so the veterinarian helped her die.” “Why is she sad?” “Because she loved her little dog very very much and she is sad that she won’t be able to see her anymore.”
I try to avoid the idea that death is “sleep” because I don’t want my child to fear sleep. I try to avoid the idea that death is scary. Death is undesirable. Death makes you miss people. Grief is normal. Death is something to avoid. But it’s a simple fact of life.