Last week, my coworker asked me for advice on how to explain death to a preschooler.
I believe that children are almost always smarter than we think, so there is no need to sugarcoat bad news. In fact, I would argue that it is better to be simple and honest about a serious topic, and to fully explain it so that it doesn’t cause any confusion or trauma.
But really what do I know? I don’t consider myself as a person who has had any close contact with death.
If I think hard, I can count 4 deaths in my life: 3 of my grandparents and my pet turtle. The reason why I still consider myself as someone who hasn’t had close contact with death is because I don’t feel anything about these deaths when I think about them.
I moved to Canada when I was 4 years old and I have little to no memories with any of my grandparents. I attended a funeral, but I didn’t really understand everything that was going on. I distinctively remember I got scolded by a relative during my grandfather’s funeral because my sister and I were playing and laughing near the end of the ceremony. She told me I should be sad, but I didn’t feel any sadness.
I felt sad only when I saw my parents cry and they were crying because it was the death of their own parents. When I placed myself in their shoes and imagined me losing my parents, I started to cry.
I’m not sure if it’s a blessing to not have experienced any deaths so far. In many aspects, I am happy that everyone I am close to and love are still around me. In other aspects, I am worried about how I will handle death when it comes. Mostly, I am afraid that I won’t be able to handle it.
I am always thinking of the future. I like to plan my schedules weeks and months in advance. I like to tell myself that when I’m older and have lots of money I’ll treat my parents to a vacation, or my friends to a feast, or do this and go there. I’ll do something nice for someone’s birthday or for Christmas, but never today just because I feel like it. I look forward to seeing people again. I remind myself that there will always be another time to make up for my mistakes or to be better.
But as we all know, death isn’t planned and it doesn’t give a damn about when would be a convenient time for me. This is why I think death will be especially difficult for me. I think I will be left with many regrets.
In a previous post, I wrote:
People tell me I am a happy person and that I am always just “so happy!” I disagree. I am more cold, bitter, and cynical than people see me as. It is the people close to me who make me a happy person. They give me so much happiness that it pours out of me as if it comes from somewhere within myself.
If someone close to me dies, I will lose a source of my happiness. It’s haunting to think that the flow of time is essentially a timeline of me gaining and losing people who make me happy until my own inevitable death.
When death comes into my life – which it will – who will explain it to me so that I don’t get traumatized?
P.S. I don’t really know what happened to my turtle. It just disappeared one day and my 3 year old self never asked. Or maybe I did and I believed what my mother told me and just forgot about it.