Monday, August 6, 2012
Discussing Death With A Three Year Old
Up until recently, we hadn’t had to discuss ‘death’ with Grace. There was only one occasion earlier in the year when she found a baby dove which had fallen out of its nest. Its lifeless, barely feathered body was lying underneath the jasmine bush just by our back door and she was rather puzzled by what had happened. While I told her he had ‘died’ and we lovingly buried him in the garden under the lily-pilly, I don’t think she really understood that poor little bird’s fate.
Then a few weeks back, the topic of death came up as we were watching the movie Finding Nemo. Up until now, Grace didn’t seem to realise that the two fish at the beginning of the movie were Nemo’s dad and mum. She thought they were the dad and Nemo himself. That week, she clicked on.
“I think that’s the mummy and daddy Nemo,” she told me.
As the scene where the nasty swordfish swoops in finished, a scene where the viewer can assume the mother fish and the fish eggs have been eaten, Grace asked, “Where has the mummy one gone?”
I tried to avoid having to explain things further with an “I’m not sure” but Grace wasn’t convinced. “But I saw the mummy one just then,” she said, “she was there, where is she now? Nemo needs his daddy AND his mummy.”
We talked about the possibility that the mother fish had been eaten. I told her not everyone was lucky enough to have a mummy and a daddy to which she burst into tears exclaiming, “But I need a daddy AND a mummy… Mummy, are you going to die?”
I assured her there weren’t any swordfish in our house and I was staying put.
Then a few weekends back, we stopped by the cemetery to put some flowers on Dad’s grave. “This is a boring shop,” said Grace.
“It’s not a shop,” I said, “it’s a cemetery, we’re putting flowers on Pop’s grave.”
“Why?” came the response.
I explained Pop had died because he had been very sick and had a bad heart.
“Will you die Mummy?” she asked, clearly concerned again.
I explained that Mummy was young and healthy and that she didn’t have to worry about me going anywhere.
“But you were sick before,” she said, “You were coughing.’
We have conversations like this a lot lately. It's hard to know how to answer at times or if I'm giving the right type of response. Grace is at an age where she is so inquisitive and curious about the world and its workings. Ours days are filled with endless ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ which are exhausting at times, but I love helping her learn and understand and wouldn’t have things any other way...
Photography by Chelsea Fuss of Frolic