A discussion of death

Our children haven’t been exposed to death or funerals so we’ve had some interesting conversations about death lately.

Yesterday we were watching the transport of Madela’s casket to Qunu and how it was loaded into the airplane. Shortly after I was watching a clip of Harry at the South Pole dragging his sleigh behind him. Mignon pipes up: Mom, is Mandela in that sleigh?

This morning, whilst they were transferring the casket Isabel asks: Mom, when do they him take out? So I spent the next few minutes explaining that you are buried in the ground, in the casket. I then made the mistake of trying to explain that you can also be cremated. The concept of ash didn’t go over very well. Have you ever tried to explain cremation to a 5yo?

Other notable questions include:
Isabel: what does it feel like to die? Answer: some people die in their sleep so they don’t even know, others maybe in car accidents so it happens so quickly they also don’t know. I shudder to think how I’m going to explain suicide.
When I explained that Joyce Banda is the first female President in the whole of Africa, Mignon asks: Mom, who was the first person made in Africa?
Loosely related, Daniel asks: Mom, did you have Bibles when you were small? Answer: yes
Daniel again: When will Ouma X die? How many sleeps before she dies? She’s very old you know.
Isabel: Will Ouma X die only when you’re a granny? Answer: we don’t want Ouma to die, we don’t want to count sleeps, but I don’t think she’ll live until I’m a granny my darling child.
Mignon: when will Madiba be a skeleton? Answer: remember he already has a skeleton, all the meat on his bones will disappear. Mignon: yes, but when will his skeleton come out?
Daniel: what do you look like when you are dead? Answer: your eyes are closed and you breathe anymore. Yes, but what do you LOOK like?

I always marvel at the resilience of children and how quickly they move on from difficult subjects, but I worry if we give them the right answers and which parts of what we say they remember. How do you explain death in a way that won’t scare them?

The one thing I know our children will remember of this time is the various versions of Hallelujah that were played in our house and how they made me cry every time.

Daniel may remember the many hugs he gave me every time I cried over the last 10 days, I think they were baffled by all my tears and even asked why they couldn’t hear me cry.

I know I was.

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