Monday, July 18, 2011

Death, a Follow Up

A few weeks ago I posted an article about talking to preschoolers about death.  Hauntingly, that night my stepmother's father died, and I was given the opportunity to test these skills.

The next day I was sitting on the toilet lid watching Elana take a bubble bath.  She was playing happily with the suds, rejoicing in the ability to freely submerge in the whole tub while Maisy napped.  Suddenly Elana sat up, looked at me and said, "Why did Grandma Lisa's daddy die?"  Given the timing, I knew that some external force (God, karma, aliens?) was testing me on the strength of my research and my ability to apply the results.

"Well, Elana, he got very old and his body wasn't able to fight off a disease any longer."
"Oh, is Grandma Lisa sad?"
"Yes, she is very sad."
"Why wasn't his body able to work anymore?"
"When you get really old, it is harder for the body to get better."
(Pause...  Elana dunks her head under the foamy bubbles.)  
"Will I die?"
(My heart quickens and I anxiously fight off the urge to tell her that she will live forever.)
"All living things die.  Trees, bugs, animals, and people.  But, you that won't happen for a long, long time."
"Longer than this?" (Elana stretches her arms as far as she can.)
"Yes."
"Longer than the house?"
"Of course."
"Longer than San Francisco?"
"Absolutely."
"Can I have more bubbles?"

That night, as I replayed the scene to my husband, I prided myself on my (almost) textbook response.  I answered Elana's questions clearly, confidently, and in simple language that did not scare her (this was my primary goal).  Granted, I may have bent the truth slightly when I assured her that she would live longer than San Francisco, but really what does that even mean?  If years are miles, then she definitely has a life expectancy much greater than the distance across the foggy city.

The next day, still slightly high from my parenting accomplishment, I decided to take this whole uncomfortable subject one step further.  Thanks to Amazon.com's one-click checkout, I was able to quickly and efficiently order a copy of Badgers Parting Gifts, which my Aunt Jill, a children's librarian, recommended for just this subject.  It arrived two days later.
  
When the package arrived, Elana and I cuddled on the couch and read the story twice- the second time in my attempt to drill its message into her head.  It was a lovely, sweet tale of Badger, a very wise, greatly cherished, and yet quite old member of the forest.  As the days pass, he realizes that he is having difficulty keeping up with the rest of the animals.  One night he relaxes at home and begins dreaming of traveling down a deep tunnel.  In the tunnel he separates from his body, becoming free.  The next morning his friends are sad to find that Badger is dead.  They miss him terribly, but are each reminded of a special gift that he has taught them.  As winter turns to spring, their sadness also melts.

After our second read-through, I asked Elana, "Did you like the story?"
"Badger was nice and I liked Mole," she responded.
"What happened to Badger?"
"He fell down a tunnel." 

Hmm....  should I elaborate on this, or leave it be for now?  Oh well, it is nearly dinner time.

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