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Going There

My inquisitive little fellow is really ramping up the questions.

Some lead to investigations. “Where is the water coming from?” he asks my mother after flushing the toilet. To answer him, Mom took the lid off the tank and let Simon watch the magic of valves.

Others lead to laughs. “Where is R2? Does R2 have a neck? Where did Luke’s hand go? Are they getting close for a kiss?” Kiddo loves The Empire Strikes Back, no doubt about it. (It’s my favorite of the three, too.)

And some questions, when asked for the hundredth time, lead to difficult and unexpected conversations.

“Mommy, why did you cry in the guest bedroom a month ago?”

I wondered if this would ever come up. The day we put Tristan down, when it came time to tuck Simon into bed, I lost it and had to leave the room. I was fine with Simon seeing me tear up or have an average cry, I even thought that was important. But I did not want him to see heaving sobs if I could avoid it.

“Do you mean when Percy and Tristan died? I cried because I knew I would miss them and was very sad.”

“Are they coming back?”

This didn’t surprise me, either. I know kids Simon’s age have a hard time understanding the finality of death.

“No honey, they died. They can’t come back.”

“Where are they?”

“They aren’t anywhere. They went to the doctor, but they were old and sick, and they died. Their bodies broke.”

“Where are their bodies?”

He’s been stuck on this last part. I keep saying, “Their bodies broke” and “They are gone.” But this is not a satisfactory answer for Simon. He wants to know where these broken bodies are.  If I took Percy and Tristan to the vet and they did not come home, shouldn’t they still be at the office? What the heck happens there anyway?

I have side-stepped this question dozens of times, thinking Simon too young for the truth. Last night, though, I saw Simon’s confused and questioning eyes and decided that if he’s still asking, he deserves a better, fuller answer than the one I’ve been serving. I did a fair bit of reading on children and death when Percy got sick, and the script I have been using is one recommended in the literature. Nothing told me what to do in the event my child started pushing for specifics, though, so I had to go off script. As a cautious person, this is akin to flying without a net: It makes me very uneasy.

“Well, honey, when you die, your body stops working. And once that happens—once you stop hearing and seeing, and once your heart stops beating, and once you stop being able to walk or move—your body changes. After a while, it turns into dust, or dirt. Once Percy and Tristan died, they became dust.”

Even as I said it, I could not believe I was going there regarding decomposition/cremation. Never in a million years did I think I’d visit the source of my own existential angst on a preschooler. But oddly, I think it’s what Simon needed to begin to put the issue to bed. That or to actually have seen Percy or Tristan after they died, but I obviously can’t go back and redo things now. And while Simon did look intense and wide-eyed, he did not look distressed or scared. He just matter-of-factly repeated it, then said one day he’d get old and sick and die and turn to dust, too. At which point I said,

“Oh honey. Not for a long, long, time. You are young! You can’t even imagine how many years will go by first.”

To which he matter-of-factly responded,

“But when I do get really old, I’ll get sick and die and turn to dust.”

To this I just gulped hard and answered the only way I knew how:

“Yes, honey. One day we will all get old and die. Everyone does.”

I have no way of knowing what part of that, if any, he understood. Was he unshaken because he still doesn’t understand the permanence of death? Probably. Did he really understand the “dust” parts? Probably not.  But for all of that, he seemed more satisfied than when he thought Percy and Tristan were stuck for all eternity at the Louisville Cat Clinic. Next stop, a quick chat with a pediatrician or child psychologist to find out if I need to unsay anything.

One Response to “Going There”

  1. blg says:

    sounds to this woman as though you are giving him exactly what he needs in small spoonfuls.

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