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Imagine There’s No Heaven

8.10.2007

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The hardest aspect of putting Desdemona down this morning (besides the whole putting down aspect of it and the me crying all day thing and then the disposing of the not-very-self-cleaning litter box that I always hated which was heavy as hell and holy cow, was it nasty) has been explaining the cat’s absence to Thalia.

She essentially knew that the cat was sick and went to the doctor. So, playing off that, we told her that Desi went to go live with the doctor to get better.

What can I say, it just came out.

It’s easy now, with Thalia only two and not understanding concepts much more complicated than the Wonderpets saving a baby cow who’s stuck in a tree. (Big twister. Don’t ask.) But in time there will be more death and more explaining and it can’t always be that everyone we know who gets sick goes to live with a doctor.

First of all, the doctors wouldn’t have it.

So here’s the question:

How do you/did you/will you talk to younger kids about death, particularly when you don’t have the happy heaven story to fall back on?

(And I’m not being facetious, I swear.)

I’m a non-practicing Jew, as they call it these days, with more commitment to the Jewish culture and values than to the religion. Nate’s a satisfied Atheist. One of the downsides of our collective beliefs, or lack thereof, is that we don’t get free access to that treasure chest full of convenient faith-based answers to life’s tough questions. It’s too bad. It would make things a whole lot easier.

Or as Jack Handey so beautifully put it: If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is “God is Crying.” And if he asks why God is crying, I think another cute thing to tell him is, “Probably because of something you did.”

90 shards of brilliance… read them below or add one

FENICLE August 10, 2007 at 1:31 am

I totally tell my kid that about God crying and when he asks why the same thing!!!Only when the sky rumbles I tell him God is angry and he asks why and I tell him it was something Dad did :)

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toyfoto August 10, 2007 at 2:28 am

I wrote about this when we had to put one of our dogs down in March. We told annabel that Maggie was sick — the kind of sick that doesn’t get better. And that the vet was going to take care of her. We decided to tell her Maggie died and that we wouldn’t be seeing her again.She handled it much better than I did. I cried for two days. Really I think you can tell them whatever you like, just know that whatever you tell them it’s going to come up again and again. Annabel wanted to know every day where maggie was, and every day I just told her the same thing. She died and she wasn’t sick anymore, but we couldn’t see her. She was satisfied and just went back to coloring, or playing or whatever else she was doing.

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Treadmillista August 10, 2007 at 2:37 am

We had to put our dog to sleep when my oldest was 18 months old. We said very little about why Cisco was gone, and at 18 months our son didn’t have many questions. However, he sees pictures and video of him with Cisco now (at 4) and asks questions about where Cisco went.I guess I don’t really have any words of wisdom because we just tell him that Cisco went to the vet and died. It sort of crushes me every time my four year old says “we had a dog but he’s dead now,” all matter of fact with no emotions. He doesn’t get the gravity of death yet, and at 2 I’m guessing Thalia won’t either. I haven’t felt the need to pull out any biblical references…since our Little People’s Noah’s Ark is fondly referred to as “Bob’s Boat” in our household, we don’t have much to draw from.

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Blog Owner August 10, 2007 at 3:00 am

I don’t have any advice or input. I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry.

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Kyla August 10, 2007 at 3:13 am

I don’t know. We DO have the heaven story to fall back on, and it still makes me incredibly uncomfortable. My son says things like, “I don’t want to get old. I want to go to heaven now.” What do you say to THAT?Maybe you could say, when people get old or very, very sick, their bodies wear out and they can’t live in them anymore…but they always live on in our hearts and memories. Maybe? It is such a difficult subject to broach from any viewpoint. Again, I am so sorry about your kitty, Liz.

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mothergoosemouse August 10, 2007 at 3:14 am

As you know, we’ve had some very candid conversations here about death (along with all of the other side effects of believing differently from others).While I don’t want to get into heavy details that a child can’t absorb, I also don’t want to minimize what death means. It’s a fine line to walk.

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Chase August 10, 2007 at 3:17 am

I don’t know how to do that. But I’ll tell you how NOT to do it.When my mother died when I was 7, my father’s words of comfort for me was, “Well, shit happens.”Bravo, father. Bravo.I have a slight feeling you’ll handle it a little more gracefully than that. ;)

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slouchy August 10, 2007 at 3:19 am

We’re in the same boat (and it ain’t Noah’s ark) when trying to explain death. We can’t in good conscience talk about heaven.So I’ll be reading the comments for some brilliant easy-on-the-hurting-heart explanation of death.Sorry it was rough.

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Diatribal August 10, 2007 at 3:21 am

I’m so sorry. I have no idea what I am going to tell baby girl when one of our dogs (or god forbid a person) dies. I don’t even want to think about it! I guess I would just say whatever I had to given the situation. (And since you mentioned it, what is the deal with the serious “twister” in that episode? It seems a little too realistic for my neck of the woods! It is definitely “sewious.”)

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Lara August 10, 2007 at 3:38 am

funny first or serious first? okay, serious first.even though i do have my own beliefs (i’m catholic, if you’re interested), i want my kids to someday make up their own minds about life. i want them to understand other beliefs and cultures. so when i talk to them about death, i’ll probably talk about it in terms of “some people believe…” i’m not convinced it’s the BEST way to go about it, but i’m also not convinced there is one BEST way. i’ll tell them what i believe, too, and what their father believes (which i don’t even know yet, since i have no idea who that father is). but that’s so many years away, i have no idea what will happen between now and then.and the funny: your post actually reminded me of a different jack handey quote. “when you die, if you get a choice between going to regular heaven or pie heaven, choose pie heaven. it might be a trick, but if it’s not, mmmm boy!”hahahaha. oh, how i love jack handey.

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Erin M August 10, 2007 at 3:43 am

We had a cardinal that we rescued and it kicked the bucket about 2 weeks later. We talked about heaven, it sounds so much nicer then saying the dead bird is getting buried and will rot in the ground. A week later our parakeet succumbed to the same mystery illness and once again we talked about heaven. My kids are now obsessed with heaven. they are excited to know that our birds are in heaven with Bob Marley.

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Blog Antagonist August 10, 2007 at 4:23 am

God…I just wrote about this. My Diminutive One is really obsessed with the afterlife lately and finding a belief that works with his inherent (inherited) skepticism. Sometimes I think it’s easier when they’re young because they’re so accepting. Mine are old enough now to question, and it’s tough to satisfy them sometimes. Good luck with Thalia and my condolences on Desi’s passing.

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Robin August 10, 2007 at 5:45 am

I’m sorry about Desi.I too am basically a non-practicing/atheist Jew so we’ve had similar issues deciding what to say about death. My son was a little bit older when this came up, but I ended up telling him that “no one knows for sure, but some people believe X and some people believe Y”. He settled on an obscure version of X for himself. X was sort of a spinoff of the Eskimo idea that stars are the hearth fires of your loved ones who’ve died. He decided that when you die you go live on a star, and his main concern then was whether the whole family got to share the same star. (Yes, of course.) We do tend to preach a lot about diversity in our house though, so helping him reach his own conclusions wasn’t as big a stretch as you might think.

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jen August 10, 2007 at 5:46 am

i am sorry for your loss…i don’t have a clue how to do this. the other day M say a dead moth and she said “make it fly” and J said “we can’t, it died” and then today we were talking and i used that expression “I almost died!” in a jackassery sort of way and M overhead and said “only moths die” and we looked at each other and thought…wow. now THERE is a topic.in essence i offer you a whole lot of nothing here. sorry about that.

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Nicole Pelton August 10, 2007 at 6:00 am

We’re similar, I’m a non-practiciing Jew, husband an ex-Catholic, and I’m also more uncomfortable with death than he is. I was really worked up when my neighbor died and my husband just sat the kids down and told them she died. My kids are 3 and 4 1/2 and the older one went, “did she do this?” (and clutched his throat and stuck his tongue out :) We said she died peacefully and we could visit her as he is buried in the ground. He’s heard from his cousin that his cousin’s uncle is in heaven he doesn’t seem confused or filled with questions, but also he obviously didn’t see these people every day. Good luck, and as other’s have said, kids seem to handle these things way more than we give them credit for, or handle them ourselves sometimes.

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Nicole Pelton August 10, 2007 at 6:15 am

She is buried, not he…

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Lia August 10, 2007 at 11:01 am

The crying comes as a surprise doesn’t it? One of our cats was killed earlier this year and I wasn’t prepared for how much I cried and how long I mourned for. We told my daughter (about the same age as yours)that he had gone for a walk and wasn’t coming back. She didn’t miss him for weeks but now asks about his or refers to him at least once a week. I know I should have told her simply that he died but didn’t.

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Suburban Oblivion August 10, 2007 at 11:33 am

We are not religious so we don’t do the gone to heaven explanation. Mot kids have seen the Lion King movie, so I find the whole circle of life thing is something they can relate to.

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Shannon August 10, 2007 at 11:38 am

My husband’s brother died of cancer at the age of 25, when my daughter was two years old. We decided it was best to be honest with her and explained that her uncle had died and what that meant (he didn’t breathe anymore, he didn’t eat anymore, he didn’t feel anything anymore etc.). We also made sure to explain that just because her uncle had gotten sick didn’t mean that anyone else she knew who got sick would die. We told her most people get better. We told her we were sad and that her grandma and grandpa would be sad. When she said “I don’t feel sad!” we told her that’s ok. We said she could give us big hugs to help us feel better. At that point I would say we still had some belief in “heaven” (I’m not sure I can still say that) but we didn’t really talk about it to our daughter. It’s a pretty abstract concept and most religions that claim belief in heaven can’t really tell you what it’s like anyway. I really think it’s important to tell kids the truth about death. In the end it was less of a big deal than we thought it would be. We spoke for a couple minutes and then she ran off to play. We’ve revisited the concept many times since but I think it’s very healthy to know about death and be able to talk about it freely, rather than fear it.

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Susan Getgood August 10, 2007 at 12:10 pm

My sympathies about Desi.On the other: Get thee to a bookstore or a library my friend. There is a whole shelf of kids books about helping explain death to kids — including death of a pet. Some are religious but many are not. My son’s cat, that he got when he was about 2, went missing when he was 3 and we had to address it then. We were pretty honest and he knows the truth, but he still misses the cat, and likes to pretend that the cat jumped on the UPS truck. It was sad but it helped a lot when his grandmother (my husband’s mom) died when he was 4.

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Julee August 10, 2007 at 12:14 pm

OK — I’m not religious either — but for the record wouldn’t it be EASIER to say, “Desi is in heaven with angels.” Blah, blah, blah…So, we had to explain to my then-three year old son why his grandfather died. I was seeing a shrink at the time — highly recommended — and, her advice was to make death concrete and NOT something that can happen to them or to Mom and Dad. In other words, we said, “Grandpa died because he was really old and really sick.” My son could think — “OK, I’m not really old and really sick and neither are my parents…I can deal with this.” Not the total truth but there is a Santa at that age and all those exceptions in life can be learned LATER as they are more mature to handle them. ALSO, the only other thing I see that may not be great about your approach (I hate being judgmental) with Thalia — is that you don’t want her to freak out about going to the doctor and thinking she may never come back…remember though — she is two and kids are so resilient…you’re a great mom.

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Jill August 10, 2007 at 12:15 pm

As a Unitarian, I’ve been in the same boat. We had a nine year old friend die suddenly and his mom put it best at the service they held. She explained that everything on our earth has a lifetime. Flowers, when we pick them, live for a day. Pet fish might live for a year. Some tortoises live over 100 years! We hope that people (and our favorite pets) will live for a long time, but we don’t know. We need to enjoy every day of our life because we don’t know how long of a lifetime we will get. This is the Circle of Life. There are some great books on the subject of talking to children about death. I think starting with small things like flowers and then pets is good preparation for the day their grandparent (or someone younger) dies.

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Kaleigh August 10, 2007 at 12:40 pm

My kids got several lessons in death when they were little. An uncle died quite suddenly, and my daughter (4 at the time) became really obsessed about it and whenever we went to church she insisted that we pray for Uncle Tony because he was dead and in heaven (by the way, we’re Unitarian and have never discussed praying for the dead). A year later a very close friend of mine died in a car accident. The kids were in the room when I got the phone call and when I subsequently fell to the floor in hysterics (yeah, I’m cool – cool as a cucumber). Because we’re Unitarian, we’ve always been pretty vague about what happens after we die, but the kids had watched a LOT of Veggie Tales and definitely believed in heaven.A year later, my cat got hit by a car very early in the morning, before the vet opened. She obviously was not going to make it, but she wasn’t in pain, so I just sat outside with her until we could take her to the vet. When the kids got up my husband told them what was going on and we gave them a chance to say goodbye. (Neither of them wanted to.) We buried her in the back yard. A few days later, my son (he was 4) wanted to dig up the hole to see if she was still there or if she was in heaven. We talked about heaven and what he thought about it, and I told him that even if she was in heaven, her body would still be in the ground.A month later he wanted to dig her up to see what her body looked like.In 2004-2005, two beloved, old pets died. The kids were old enough to understand, and were sad. But no discussion of afterlife or digging them up or anything like that since then. I think the important thing is staying age-appropriate in your explanations. At 2, your child really can’t understand. In a few years, though, you can tell her what you think happens when we die (my husband and I have very different opinions, and the kids know this), and you can use the opportunity to ask what she thinks happens.I’m sorry about your cat. It’s really awful to lose a pet.

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Mom101 August 10, 2007 at 12:47 pm

Julee, thank you for pointing that out. (Not judgmental; it’s a perfectly fair point.) It’s actually something we were concerned about, Thalia worrying that the doctor=staying forever so we continued to remind her that doctors make people better blah blah blah. Okay so it’s an awkward and terrible explanation. But in the emotion of the moment it was working. I suppose I wasn’t ready for Thalia to know about death yet. But these comments are making me realize that dead to a toddler isn’t like dead to us. These comments are all amazing. I’m so impressed with how much candor people use for their very young children. In a few months, I can’t wait to hear all your thoughts on Santa Claus!

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birdgal August 10, 2007 at 12:57 pm

I haven’t had to deal with death yet with my almost two year old, though I’m certainly getting some good ideas from your readers! Anyway, just wanted to say that I’m sorry about Desi’s passing….it’s always hard to lose a pet, no matter how ornery they were in life.

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Fairly Odd Mother August 10, 2007 at 1:17 pm

My oldest (6) has lived through the death of both birds AND the long, agonizing death of her beloved Opa (my dad) (and now one of our cats is close to death too). I have used the ‘heaven’ line, but we do not believe in hell, and ‘heaven’ (which is not described but is more of a concept) is for everyone and anyone. It is more where the ‘essence’ of the person goes when their body doesn’t work anymore. (this helps her to think of the ‘body’ or exterior of someone as less important than what they truly are).We will sometimes let a balloon go and watch it fly up to the sky. As it goes, we’ll yell up to “Opa” that the balloon is for him. She loves this and it helps to keep him real for her. Death is pretty scary to adults, I don’t want to scare her with it as well.

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Michele August 10, 2007 at 1:30 pm

I think when the time comes, alot of it will depend on the kid. An adored uncle died very suddenly two years ago. Each of my nieces and nephews, who at the time ranged in age from 4 to 14, handled the death part differently. One of my nephews needed to understand the physical aspect of it, so the undertaker was kind enough to answer all of his questions, and show him the casket room and explain what a vault was and how they would lower the casket in (morbid, I know, but he needed to understand it and was dramatically better once he did). A niece was quiet until someone gave her a task, and then she wholeheartedly dove into creating the wonderful collages of pictures that were displayed at the wake and funeral. She needed active involvement. Another one just wanted to draw pictures of the dead uncles truck, and put it in the casket. Each kid had their own way of dealing, but overall I do think all of them wanted and needed reassurance that this wasnt going to start happening to all of their people now.I am sorry for your loss.

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kgirl August 10, 2007 at 1:31 pm

I dunno. When my brother was two, our grandmother died. It sparked some huge anxiety in him related to his own parents going away and never coming back. I’ll be saying goodbye to my own dad soon, and I’m going to just give my own 2-year old a pass on this one. We’ll talk about it when she’s older; when we can look at pictures and tell nice stories about his life.

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BOSSY August 10, 2007 at 1:32 pm

Bossy is peeing herself remembering Jack Handey. Bossy has dug her grave many times regarding death (no *fun* intended) – her happy heaven story always involves how the lost pets and loved ones are all together now, probably in Aunt Jenny’s kitchen – the one with the pink rubber placemats – and someone is turning the flame a little higher under the coffee pot and someone is snapping their fingers along with the radio, maybe even Benny Goodman himself.

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Her Bad Mother August 10, 2007 at 1:54 pm

I met Desi. She was, um, special. She actually cornered me in your bathroom in the middle of the night and had me convinced that whoever coined the term ‘hounds of hell’ got the species wrong.Still, I’m a bit teary over here. She was a fierce beeyatch, and I respect that. And I have buried one or two four-legged beeyatches in my time, and was nonetheless heart-stung by the experience. Always, hugs to you.

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Lori at Spinning Yellow August 10, 2007 at 2:00 pm

Death comes up all the time around here even though we haven’t had much of a real reason to talk about it. We also don’t use any convenient, faith-based explanations. We do the “no one knows, but some people think this and some people think that, what do you think? What do you want it to be like?” explanation. But Thalia is still so young! (and I am reminding myself to say “TH-alia” not “T-alia”, I am glad I learned that at BlogHer from you!).Oh, and the circle of life, also a good talking point although Scott once said “Your grandma died? Did she turn into dirt yet?” So, no real answers from me …But I am sorry for your loss.

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Magpie August 10, 2007 at 2:16 pm

My in-laws dog died when my child was under three. She was just told that Spike died – he got old and sick and died. She just took it in. For months after, though, she’d tell me – “Spike died. I have to tell Grandma.” – that is, Grandma the dog’s owner. She’s been very matter of fact about it.I’m sorry about your cat.

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sam August 10, 2007 at 2:36 pm

I wish I had something intelligent to share, but I don’t. We don’t practice religion at all, so I haven’t the faintest idea how to approach this topic without the mention of Heaven and not being hypocritical. I *think* if I was faced with this same issue I would probably use a description of heaven at this age (Carter is the same age as Thalia).I’m so sorry, I can’t imagine that this is easy.

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clickmom August 10, 2007 at 2:39 pm

When our fabulous dog died, my kids were 3,7, and11. I realized that they cried because I cried, and within days, while I was trying to suck it up and look brave, they were wondering, much to my amazement when we could get a new dog. They talked about missing him for a long time, and I would agree, I missed him too. They didn’t seem to hurt like I was hurting, but in a way he was my baby before I had babies.

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me August 10, 2007 at 2:40 pm

without reading the other comments, I have to say I am so sorry about your cat. I had a dog for 17 years and the day I had to put her down was one of the hardest days ever, and I really don’t care for dogs too much. Once you have children your pets take a back seat, and you don’t realize how much you depend on their just being there, until they aren’t.do you need to have heaven to have a spirit? strangely we dealt with this very recently, my brother died just a couple weeks ago. My youngest, who is 8, noticed he didn’t look the same when he saw him at the wake, and I told him it was because his spirit wasn’t there anymore. Instead his spirit was keeping an eye on him, and was a part of him now (he has his name for a middle name). While he was distraught over never seeing his uncle again, he was comforted with this knowledge of the spirit, not so much heaven.I hope it helps

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Another Jennifer August 10, 2007 at 2:42 pm

As my daughter is only 2 months old, we haven’t dealt with the death issue yet, but I’ve already thought about the general issue. I’m a non-denominational Christian of sorts, and my husband is what I like to call a militant athiest. I think we’re going to have to take the “Some people believe X and some people believe Y. Here is what I believe, and here is what Daddy believes,” type of tactic with her when the time comes. I have no illusions that even if I tried to force my beliefs on her (which I never would) that it would ensure her beliefs match mine. My husband was brought up in a church, and is very cynical about religion in general. So basically I’m just hoping that the conversation is put off as long as possible, and that when the time comes I have the tools to give her facts, and she can form her own ideas.

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petite mommy August 10, 2007 at 2:46 pm

I’m so sorry about your cat. I’ve lost a few too. Our new cat disappeared last year after getting out of the house. We don’t know if someone stole him or if he died. When he didn’t come back, I told the boys that the cat found some friends and wanted to be with his cat family. It worked. Have you read parenting beyond belief?

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Mom101 August 10, 2007 at 2:49 pm

Another Jennifer – boy, could we compare notes about having a militant atheist in the family. I think you put it perfectly. Petite mom – we actually have the book (or Nate does) but it’s under some pile somewhere, yet unread. Thanks for the suggestion. That’s a wonderful idea.

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Gray Matter August 10, 2007 at 3:02 pm

Liz, I know how sucky this is. We had to put Clio down a few years ago. For myself I found denial to be my strongest ally. I asked for all traces of her (water bowls, crates, smelly leashes) to be removed by the time I got back from my errand that was to take exactly one our longer than the vet’s appointment.You know that I have no qualms about lying to my son, and I think I said nearly verbatim what you said to Thalia. Eventually one day one of us said that she was dead. Enough time had passed that it was just a matter of fact, not leaping off point for the bigger discussion of death, life, and what comes next.At two, I don’t don’t think the intricate details are appropriate to go into, regardless of your faith. Perhaps a framed picture of Desi and her would be good so that she can “think nice thoughts about her.”Lots of love from your northern neighbor.

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Lisa Giebitz August 10, 2007 at 3:09 pm

Someone told me when I was pretty young (seven or eight, I think) that pets don’t go to Heaven. I replied that if that were true, then I wasn’t going either.My parents always felt that it’s our responsibility to be with our pets when they pass. So when we got to a certain age (like double digits), we would be there we our pet was being put to sleep. I actually found it easier to cope that way because I could see with my own eyes that they were at peace and no longer it pain. Before we were old enough for that, they would always make it clear when the pet was sick and not going to get better as a way of preparing us. My folks were also non-religious, so I was told that death brings peace and an end to suffering. We’ll sad because we miss them, but we should also be glad that they won’t be in pain anymore.Anyway, I hope that helps some. I’m very sorry about Desi.

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Mom101 August 10, 2007 at 3:18 pm

Grey Matter – The picture! Perfect. I always knew you were smart. Lisa G – I think I love your parents.

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ali August 10, 2007 at 3:36 pm

“I’m a non-practicing Jew, as they call it these days, with more commitment to the Jewish culture and values than to the religion”that’s me,too…so i have the same questions as you :)

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Lawyer Mama August 10, 2007 at 3:45 pm

I struggle with this as well and did so very recently. I have a post started on the subject, so I’ll finish it rather than blather on for forever in your comments!I guess my short version is that I did something similar to what you did and I wish I’d known how to do it differently. But I think maybe my almost 3 year old is still a bit too young to understand.I’m so sorry about your kitty.

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laurie August 10, 2007 at 4:07 pm

this is so hard, in so many ways, as all your brilliant commenters have already gone over.we had to discuss death with my then 3.5-yr-old twins when my aunt died of cancer last year. we took the “she was sick and old” route, to distinguish her from them. worked well enough. then a little boy in their preschool died suddenly (unknown medical condition) and we were completely utterly stumped. i’m still unsure of how to handle that. we just did the best we could and i hope we did it ok.Good luck. I send hugs.

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Jaelithe August 10, 2007 at 4:07 pm

When my last cat died, my son was still too young to talk, so I didn’t have to explain it to him, though I could tell he missed her (he still sleeps with a plush cat at night now, more than two years later). He does seem curious about death occasionally, though– when I show him photos of the cat, or of family members who have died. (Or when he watches Finding Nemo– see my old blog post on that if you’re interested). I’ve explained to my son that death happens when a body gets too broken to work right anymore. When he asks specifically about the cat, I tell him she was very old and sick, and her body was worn out, and it needed to rest. But I’m not sure how much he really understands, and he’s a whole year older than Thalia. I think death is a difficult concept for children this age to grasp, no matter how you explain it to them. I am a pantheist (Google with: Spinoza, Einstein, Romantic poets) and I belong to a pantheist message board where the subject of how to talk about death to kids without resorting to the heaven explanation has come up many times. The best suggestion I’ve read came from a parent who said that one day in the bath, she took a cup and filled it with water, and told her son that the cup full of water was what being was like when people are alive. Then she poured the water back into the bath, and said, “This is what being is like after death. The water didn’t go away– it just lost its form and its separateness, and went back to being a part of the rest of the water.”I personally think this is a great explanation, but, I think preschoolers are probably a bit young to grasp even that. I’m so sorry about poor Desdemona.

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amy August 10, 2007 at 4:07 pm

First, I am so sorry for your loss :( You are a great person for doing this for Desi.As far as the death thing goes, we skirted around it for a long time as well. At about two years of age, my daughter saw a dead bird and said it was “sleeping”. So we took that and ran with it; It’s sleeping forever and won’t wake up. Pure Atheists here, and I personally believe in reincarnation. I’m not going to drop that heavy load on my daughter though, she will be able to make up her own mind after being exposed to as many religions as we can get (although I have explained the concept to her when she asked). She has attended a Christian camp, attended baptisms etc. Solid, aware choices are how we do things.It was hardest to get through my DH’s grandfather’s death last year. But he was very very sick with cancer and we told Paige that he was an old man (with no disrespect), had lived a very full life, and needed to stop suffering. Just the facts. She’s accepted his death as well as a child her age can.

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Keri August 10, 2007 at 4:27 pm

Be honest. Tell her that Desdemona died and you won’t be seeing her again. She may not understand completely but she will when she gets a little older. My parents lied to me about what happened to my dogs, cats and rabbits and it was really traumatic for me. The truth hurts but lies hurt more.

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modmom August 10, 2007 at 5:17 pm

mod*tot noticed dried up bugs + worms in the yard + we said they weren’t alive anymore since they can’t move. she knows we’re animals too + that sometimes when animals get sick, they don’t get better + they’re not alive anymore.

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Della August 10, 2007 at 5:36 pm

When my daughter’s baby chick died, I had this same problem. What I told her, though it may seem kind of wacky, was that everything in the world is made up of energy, and that when her chick died, her energy became part of the big world again. I told her that nothing is ever gone for GOOD, but it’s not always in a form we recognize as our pet. I know it sounds pretty cheesy. But it did seem to make her feel better to know that her pet wasn’t just GONE.

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Will & Kate August 10, 2007 at 5:53 pm

I second “Parenting Beyond Belief.” It’s an excellent book of essays. There are several that deal with explaining death when you don’t believe in heaven.-K

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