A few weeks ago, our daycare provider's 14 year old chocolate lab died. He had lived a good (long) life, was suffering from cancer, and was starting to have recurrent bladder infections. His joints hurt him and he hobbled around--so it was clearly time for him to go. Nicole, C's daycare gal, had told us of their plans to put him to sleep, but I didn't mention anything to Charlie about it. Some part of me was thinking that maybe he wouldn't notice. (Yeah right, like the kid who notices every detail would miss the fact that a dog is suddenly gone.)
Anyway, as expected, the kids were asking about the dog the next day. She explained to them that he was really old and was too sick to live anymore and that he died. I was happy that she told me about this, so that if C asked questions at home, we would be on the same wavelength. But a few days later, at the park, C noticed some fallen leaves and asked why they were all crunchy. Why were they falling apart? Without even thinking, I told him that it's because they had died. And he looked at me and said,
"Cody got died. He flew up way high in the sky and died."
Oh my. Now what? Where do I go with that?
"He flew in the sky?"
"Uh-huh. He flew up way high in the sky and got died. No more."
I decided to leave it at that for the moment, but my assumption is that there was some mention of Heaven and going to Heaven after dying, etc. etc.
Which brings me to my dilemma. Considering my lack of belief in the afterlife, how do I explain death to a kid? Especially a toddler? Of course, I ended up just sticking to the facts and using nature as examples. We talked about how things like animals and people are alive right now. They can eat and make noises and move around. And plants are alive too-- just in a different way. (That might be a lesson for another day) But when they get too old or too sick or too hurt, they die and we don't get to play with them anymore.
So this morning, C tells me that Binga died.
"What? He died?"
"Yeah." (Makes a really sad face)
"Wow, I bet you're really sad."
"No, just one of the Binga's died. Not my Binga, I still have two more left."
"Oh. I bet you're happy then."
"Yeah. But did Grandma Ruby got died?"
"What? Yes honey, Grandma Ruby died."
"No, she just got hurt on her head."
Oh my. Oh my. Oh my. Where do I go with this? Acknowledge that he's correct without scaring him into thinking that bumping your head can lead to death? Oh my. $hit.
And before I could think too much more about it, C had decided he was finished with his lunch and ready to play downstairs. The topic was avoided for now, but leaves me with a bit of homework-- to figure out how to tackle this topic in a caring yet factual yet non-scary way. Wish me luck.