Last week, after a bout of I-want-applesauce-I-DON’T-WANT-APPLESAUCE! (substitute any food or activity for applesauce), Sasha was uncharacteristically quiet for a few minutes. Which I took as an opportunity to eat my lunch. Then, out of the blue, she asked me the question I have most been dreading (even more than this one):
“What is dying?”
I told her it was such an interesting question, and I asked her where she’d heard it, so I could help her understand what she’d heard. She said she heard it from nowhere. That she’d just made it up. So I asked her what she thought it meant. She said she had no idea, but insisted that I tell her.
“Okay,” I said. “Dying is when something stops being alive. Like flowers and leaves in winter.”
“No,” she snapped. “That is not what it is.”
“What do you think it is?” I asked.
“It is when you never ever come back,” she said, not a hint of uncertainty in her voice.
We talked about it a little, with me assuring her that when Mommy and Daddy are away, we are always coming back. But then, I wasn’t even sure if she was thinking of dying as something that could happen to people, so I asked her if it could.
“Only to bad people,” she said. “Like the Wicked Witch. She dies into a hole.”
I had her draw me a picture of what the Wicked Witch looks like when she’s dying. And then she said she wanted to show me what dying really looks like. When it happens to a good person. Which, apparently, sometimes it does. She insisted that you needed to start with a light color.
And then end with a dark color.
I watched as Sasha very methodically and with steady pressure colored over every bit of the “good person with a smile.”
“She is never ever coming back,” she told me.
It was all pretty haunting. And I, of course, felt like the thing that was dying was her innocence. But was it really? How much does she actually understand? We have not had a pet or family member or friend die in her lifetime, though I know she has friends who have experienced one (or all) of those things. My guess is that she’s gotten little bits from them, and maybe from mentions in movies (even the Broadway soundtrack of Peter Pan has Hook crooning about killing the boys). Who knows? All I know is, there is more to come. And I am going to need some books.
What books have you used with your toddlers to talk about dying? And what happened when they learned what it meant?