Monday, January 24, 2011

Talking to kids about death

We had to talk Patrick through first meg and then Bert's deaths- our two cats who died within a few short months of each other. We were just honest and talked about how sometimes animals and people don't get better when they go to the doctor if they are very sick, and  sometimes they die. They say not to use euphemisms like "gone away" or "sleeping" because that confuses them, and they get worried if an adult is 'sleeping' or 'gone away'. We reassured him that when people or animals are dead they don't feel pain or hurt, that they don't need to be fed or breathe. We also told him that it is OK to be sad when people or animals die. We let him visit first Meg then Bert when they were in hospital. Then when they had died we showed him the body and that they weren't moving. The vet gave us a lovely plain calico bag "shroud" for Meg (she was in a cornstarch degradable bag as well) and we drew some pictures on it and wrote her name and some things that we loved about her on it and tied it with a flowery ribbon before we buried her. Bert died at home so we didn't have the 'shroud' but we put some special things in his grave too (his collar, some flowers). Patrick seemed to cope with it pretty well. He asked questions and we answered them as honestly as we could. We didn't discuss heaven or God or any religious concepts because we're not believers, but he seemed pretty happy with that anyway. Occasionally he will bring things up about Meg or Bert and we'll answer as best we can. Occasionally he'll tell complete strangers that "Meg died, she's in our garden" - and before the stranger runs away to call the police we have to reassure them it's a cat not a great aunt! Finally we bought "Goodbye Mog" and read that to him.

Occasionally I'll come home sad from work because of someone that I had cared for died. Patrick gets an honest answer ifd he asks why I'm sad. He understands now that very old people and very sick people die, and it is no-one's fault. He also understands that people die because of accidents. He sometimes worries that Ernie (our remaining cat- yes, Ernie and Bert were brothers/littermates) will get run over and die, or that Grandma or Grandpop might die (they are inestimably old in his opinion!) but we reassure him that neither are they sick nor very old. I think this is part of the normal figuring out process that kids have to fit the concept of 'death' into their expanding understanding of the world and life. I'm glad in a way that it was a pet that died rather than a person, so that it is easier and gentler for him to learn about death this way.

In short- be open, be honest and reassure them that what they are feeling is normal. Watch the episode of Sesame Street where Mr Hooper dies and Big Bird reacts. It's perfect.


Anonymous Eilis said...

Mr Hooper died? Oh.

Great post, thanks for writing it.

25/1/11 13:15  

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