Friday, September 9, 2011

the "d" word

Photo from here...

In preparation for my son's first day of Kindergarten today, I attended an interview with his teacher yesterday. It mostly entailed questions of, "Can he tie his shoes?", "Does he feel shy in new situations?" and "Can he wipe his own bottom?"

At the end of our little meeting, his teacher asked about his special interests. I listed off his favourite play things (Lego, cars, his bike), the things he likes to do with his friends (swim, play hide-n-seek, jump on a trampoline) and his favoured topics of conversation (monster trucks, chickens and death).

His teacher stared at me for a moment after the latter item. "Oh...," she replied, "What does he say when he talks about death?"

"He often ponders over what it feels like or what you see when you die. Sometimes he wonders when he or I will die," I told her in a tone that suggested this was common-place and not really worth a huge amount of detail.

She listened with a faint look of concern on her face. This look turned soft as she asked, "Do you think he would benefit from speaking to our school counsellor?"

I suppose with the fact that this, death, is such a common topic in our house it hadn't occurred to me that this type of conversation might be cause for concern at his school. I thought for a moment about her suggestion. An avalanche of thoughts tumbled around in my brain, "Is it bad that he talks about death? But I want him to feel comfortable talking about his concerns! Are other parents going to be upset when their child quotes my son's occasional morbid thinking? I can't guarantee that he will even say anything to other children. Are his questions abnormal? This IS normal to him!"

All night I thought about this conversation. It struck me as odd how as parents we are instructed to talk to our children about their bodies and how they work. We are expected to teach them how to be healthy and strong. We even teach "sex ed" to ensure that our children are aware of all that our bodies are capable of in a reproductive sense.

But we do not talk to them about the end of our body's life. We do not talk about the imminent eventuality of our body either wearing out or "breaking" prematurely. Although it will happen to each and every one of us, we treat death as a possibility. Not an unavoidable inevitability.

I don't think dodging the subject or treating death as a four letter word is the appropriate way to help our children, or ourselves, develop a healthy view of death. It's unfortunate for them that sex is more accepted as a topic when it is not even a guaranteed act for every human on this planet. But death, well, it will happen to each and everyone of us. I don't want to shy away. I hope to let them know that it's okay to talk about it. It's fine to wonder, to question and even to worry about what and how it happens.

So I've decided that unless my son develops a habit of hiding books about death under his mattress or giggling about it with his friends in whispered tones, I am perfectly happy discussing it with him and I do not think that he requires a counsellor to tell him what to believe or when is an appropriate time to talk about the "d" word. He is sorting that out himself....and he is talking to me about it as he goes.


  1. You go girl! Most counselors or school educators or administrators cannot relate first hand to a tragic and sudden loss. You raise your children by the guidance of your heart and the watchful eye of Jeff.

    I admire your strength!

  2. As a society we really do have a fear of death. We don't talk about it. We all KNOW we'll die, but hope it's at the end of a long and well-lived life, and peacefully in our sleep that makes all parties involved feel OK. (If only life - er death I guess, were like that.)

    Even in the face of the terminal 3 month prognosis given my husband, we REFUSED to believe that he would die. We waited for our miracle until the very end. (My life would be a little easier if I'd asked him a few key questions about where things were, and how things ran in the 6 months that we did get, but again - we REFUSED to believe he would die.)

    Perhaps if there was some education for us all growing up, it wouldn't be as painful to deal with. But really, who's going to voluntarily sign-up for the 'Death 101' course?!

    I still see it all around me. Denial.
    My aging parents are still fortunate and healthy enough to live in their home of 60 years. My sister & I have tried to broach the subject of selling and moving to a place with less work and to force them to discuss the inevitable and fast approaching future and they refuse. They're 81 & 86! but yet they still REFUSE to to discuss and prepare for their decline into death.

    Yes, if we could talk about death without the stigma associated with it, it would probably be a lot easier to handle when it does strike.

    (And your son sounds like he's handling life and death just fine!)

  3. One or two generations of nuclear families and condominiums, and we have got so unfamiliar with death! Now death is the enemy, to be fought against at all costs in intensive care units even in incurable diseases, the next generation also getting financially destroyed in the process!
    That teacher is afraid of the word "death". She would benefit from some counseling, so that she learns to accept the fact that death is the inevitable consequence of life!
    And congratulations to the young man! He has a mother who will lead him well in life!

  4. Thank you! I was wondering if I had the only child discussing death. My husband died when my son was 3. My son is now 5. Over the past 2 years, we have had numerous conversations about death. As he is getting older, he is asking even more questions. I think it is so healthy for children to ask questions and talk about death. But, it clearly makes many of the people we meet very uneasy. And, there are days that I wonder if my son is overly interested in the topic. It's good to know that there are other children out there asking the same questions.

  5. Any discussion about death is healthy for children. There are lots of childrens' books dealing with the subject, I first talked about it with my children when they were in preschool, and Grandma was in her last days. Everyone, including pets, are on this same road, and will die; children can process and realize this fact of life, we do not need to hide it from them. Their questions are only natural, just like when they want to know "why is the sky blue?" or "where do babies come from?". Talking about it only helps when it inevitably happens again to someone they love. So I say let his questions flow, you are dealing with it normally, it is the teacher who needs to learn from your child.

  6. To be honest - doctors and health care providers have THE biggest fear of death ! Talk about not wanting to talk about. They say things like, "aggressive with poor prognosis." When you question what that means, they duck with, "they aren't prophets!
    This fear is why we all seek this site for help and refuge.

  7. I would agree that "death ed" should be taught and discussed in schools. In fact, even adults "avert eyes" and are uncomfortable when thinking (leave alone discussing) about this topic. Here is a pointer to a relevant article: