Basically, we were cowards.
Finally, about a week after we got rid of the fish, she realized “Snappy” was no longer living on the bookshelf in her playroom. And she asked the dreaded question: Where did he go?
Our four year old was totally okay with my husband’s tear streaked answer: To live with Jesus. She didn’t ask any follow ups. She didn’t request details. She just accepted that the fish was now sitting on Jesus’ bookshelf swimming in and out of a little plastic castle.
No big deal.
A year ago, my uncle died. A month after that, a four-year-old boy in our community passed away in a tragic accident. The questions that she asked knocked the breath out of me – is Uncle Tom taking care of Snappy? Do I think Jesus has dinner with Uncle Tom? Is Uncle Tom reading Reice a bedtime story?
For a while, the questions and conversation were rampant and I had no answers. She would tell strangers in the grocery store her uncle died. She would talk about Reice as if he was her best friend (even though she didn’t know him). My husband and I didn’t really know how to handle her questions and comments and constant discussion about death. We were the parents that told her that Simba’s Dad was just sleeping. Because we weren’t ready to really talk to her about the realities of life. We wanted to ignore it. To sweep it under the rug.
But we couldn’t. Because being able to have those hard conversations is the essence of parenting.
For us, we are a faith-filled family. And we were able to talk to our little lady from the constructs of that faith. Heaven. Eternal life. Meeting again. And though this helped, I’m not sure that she really grasped the circular nature of life and death. I don’t think she realizes that everyone is born, lives, and dies. This means that our conversations are ongoing – as she begins to navigate this true understanding. As we become more confident in the really hard questions.
There really is no right or wrong. For us, we don’t want to lie to our kids or mislead them, but it’s difficult when they ask what if you die? not to say I won’t. We opted for hopefully that won’t happen for a very, very long time and were lucky that she was satisfied with that answer. But the time will come when she needs more. When her questions will be deeper, clearer, harder.
And though we don’t have all the answers, we’ve decided to stick together so that the message is consistent and clear. And that we ultimately are eliminating fear from the conversation.
Because we don’t want her to be afraid. Or worried. Or obsessed.
We want her to live life to the fullest. And the best way to do that is live life with her while being open with her questions. Guiding her understanding and filling her faith.
I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is that she feels comfortable asking these hard questions. And that she seeks us for answers, follow-ups, and support.
As long as we can continue to build that connection and trust, I think we’ve done the best we can.