November 1, 2017 by Rua Lupa
Its that time of year when Death is displayed in all its G(l)ory, and so is also a time when many families have to start the conversation on what Death is and how to come to terms with that.
My child is 10 now, and death is a familiar subject to them, but only because they were introduced to it as soon as they were old enough to ask – as I see learning primarily as a self directed adventure where parents help in exposing them to diverse environments for them to explore that new information in. This means going beyond the home, school, and playground, which can be walks around your community, visiting the local library, museum(s), community center, education centers (for us these are Gordon’s Park, Science North and Dynamic Earth), Botanical Gardens, Zoos, Conservation Centers, Art Galleries, and more. Basically all the things that would count as “Staycations” (Local Vacations).
For my child they were around 5 years old during a walk in the community when they saw a dead salmon in the creek and asked about it. Having seen live salmon in the same creek just days before, they wanted to know what happened to that one. “It’s dead” I answered, which had satisfied their younger self before. This time they queried what death was, so I continued to explain, seeing that they were ready to understand what I was about to say.
What I had said then was along the lines of this,
“We have to eat to live right? And every thing we eat was once alive, like that salmon. Now it’s body has become food for others. What is not eaten by big animals gets eaten by tiny tiny creatures who help turn that dead salmon into soil.” At some point I explained that animal poop is another way soil is made – which, as one could imagine, took a while to get back on topic as poop is humorous to kids.
“See, if it were not for death there would be no soil, and plants need soil to live, and animals, including us, need plants to eat to live, and carnivore type animals can only eat other animals to live. So, it is because of death we have soil which supports the plants which supports the animals, including us human animals. Death is a good thing and it is special to be a part of that.”
Then the big question, “So we Die?”
“Yes, when we die, other living things will eat our bodies just like what is happening with that salmon. But we usually bury human bodies. We cannot avoid ever dying, and do not know when we will die, but we do a good job of protecting ourselves from death by making sure we are healthy and safe, and that usually means most humans die when we get really really old. So we mostly do not have to worry about that so long as we take care of ourselves and be safe.”
Concerns about death were not completely abated by that answer, and naturally was a reoccurring topic that with each time I did my best to answer with clarity and honesty.
“Is there life after death?” only came about after their peers brought it up. Being an Atheist and wanting my child to be free to decide their own beliefs on the matter I answered with, “Many people believe that, and there are many different stories about what that would be like, but nobody has any evidence that there is anything beyond death. It is still a strongly held belief and it is good to understand these beliefs to know where people are coming from in conversations. You can decide what you believe about these stories, just remember that so long as people are not harming each other, people are free to believe what they like. But it is still okay to disagree, and if you do, do so respectfully.”
If they are old enough to ask they are old enough to know, with that in mind you only answer enough to satisfy their specific question and not elaborate if it is not deemed age appropriate. e.g. “Where do babies come from”, my answer was from your mom’s tummy, and as they became aware of reproductive anatomy, and/or were able to ask how the baby comes out, I explained more details of the fetus and birth. When they were old enough to understand the gender spectrum, then they learned what creates a fetus. Once they understood romantic relationships (how attraction works -Hetero, Bi/Pan, and Homo Sexuality – and what a healthy and unhealthy romantic relationship is), they learned the rest about sexual reproduction and the ways to be sexually healthy (Contraceptives and STIs).