Monday, April 29, 2013

Of Death and Taxes, but not so much of the Taxes

rays of sunshine

Godzilla had just turned three when his great-grandpa died. He was two when his Pepaw died. He was only a baby when his Great Uncle Don died. Now he is four and today, our neighbors dog passed away. He has never really been aware of death before now. True, we've seen people die on TV, had a melt-down when we brought a whole roasted (real-dead) chicken home from the store, and we've talked about the loved ones we've lost in the last four years, but he has never been in a place to actually deal with a loss. And thus, we've never had a real discussion with him about the subject.

I didn't think we would really deal with this issue at our house today either. After all, it was our neighbors dog, and I imagined they would have their own grieving period. However, after playing with their kids for a while today, he and I were in the kitchen as I packed my lunch for work and he said, "Dad, why did Tucker have to die?"

There it was. The question I wasn't prepared for, the one I didn't think to plan ahead for. I didn't have an answer for him. He looked at me with interest and curiosity in his big brown eyes. I don't know if he was connecting the death of a neighbors dog to the frailty of life for all God's creatures, or if it was a simpler question; simply what happened to the neighbor's dog? All I knew was I had thin ice to tread, that providing too much information could cause fear on his part, or by brushing off the question, I could encourage a flippant attitude about death. I would have to walk carefully to help him find the answers he was looking for.

After all, it's in our nature to ask questions. To seek out new ideas. To imagine great possibilities and endless wonder. Children are learning from their surroundings every day, and today we were going to learn about death. I crouched down to get on his level, and asked him what he though of it. "I don't know why he died, Dad." was his reply. So, I started by telling him that Tucker was old, and that when animals get old, they die. That all animals die (and then I broke out a little Lion King), it's a part of the circle of life. We are born to live a life and bring joy to this world. Then, when we've lived the best life we can, we die. And Tucker had done just that for our friends.

At this point, Nat joins the conversation. She has been sitting at the kitchen table doing her homework. "Everyone dies, Sean" she says. "Like Great-Papa, or Uncle Don." She has been through these loses, and remembers them, being four years older than him. "Its sad, but we just have to know we loved them and now they're gone."

I try to soften it down again, bring it back from people and onto pets, worrying that he will begin to worry that his mom and I, his sister, his grandparents: everyone he knows and loves, even himself, eventually will one day die and disappear forever. "That's right Godzilla, all things die, trees, and grass and pets... Nana's dog died, we had a pet fish who died." Nat of course chimes in again at this point with tears in her voice: "Don't talk about Nick-Happy the Fish, I really miss him." I say OK to her, and tell Godzilla its just the way God made things, and that its ok to be sad for Tucker and his family, but he doesn't have to worry about anything else right now.

Moving on, I didn't know what else to say. I guess we tend to generally avoid talking about death, particularly in front of our children. We all know it will happen, to our pets, to ourselves, and ultimately our children. Its one of those two things your dad told you were certain in life. But its much more pleasant to go on with life, the happy part of the circle I referred to before. That part where we live a life that brings joy to the world. That part where we laugh and play, sing and dance, drink coffee and blow bubbles, (or for those of us with four legs) play fetch and have our tummies rubbed.

That is life.

And I guess that, in the end, is what makes death OK.


  1. This touched my heart. First, death is never an easy subject & you handled it well. Second, from a teacher's perspective, you are a talented writer. Third, I am honored that Tucker had the blog. Tucker was a fabulous dog to our children. Even in his passing, he helped Sean tackle an important aspect of life. Thank you for sharing this!
    - Charity

    1. I guess after I left for work, he spent about an hour where he wanted to be left alone. Kate said when she asked him what was wrong he said "I don't want to talk about it." By the next day though, he was back to normal.

  2. My son is at that stage now. He constantly asks why this or that animal died, why people die, etc. He doesn't know anyone who has died, and has no pets, but he has seen dead animals. He wants to know why the chicken or fish on his plate died, or why the rat or bird on the street was dead, how did it die, was it sick, etc.
    I know it's a normal developmental stage, but I'm truly hoping he'll be over it soon as I'd love to talk about something else. :)

  3. Thanks for sharing, Nick. My wife's cat just died and I'm sure our 2-year-old, who has known no life without this cat, will start to wonder why she isn't around someday soon. Thankfully, we have another, more active cat to help soften the blow. But I'll still try to walk the line between flippancy and fear. Thanks for pointing me in this direction.