Death is an inevitable but bitter fruit of life that we all digest differently and at varying points in our lives. As adults we have developed our individual ways of dealing with it, but explaining it to a child is something entirely different. I always knew someday that time would come and I’ve dreaded it since my kid was an infant. Little did I know that I’d have some ‘splainin’ to do a lot sooner than I had anticipated.
A child’s ignorance of mortality can generate envy because you wish you could return to that state. On the other hand, the fact that life is chipping away at another piece of your kid’s innocence is heart wrenching.
While outside playing, my son and I discovered a dead baby bird. The past few days had been especially windy so I figure it fell from its nest and perished. Liam pointed, looked up at me and asked, “Daddy, what’s that?” Holy s***, what do I say? I can’t lie and tell him that it’s a trap music mixtape. At the same time, I didn’t want to drop the “D” word on him, have to explain and turn him into the “it’s not a tumor” kid from Kindergarten Cop.
What’s even more unsettling is knowing that it today’s dead baby bird will eventually lead to loved ones who pass. Life being what it is, he may one day have questions about classmates who won’t be coming back to class. At some point, we will have to discuss his own existence and how it’s threatened by both people who hate his skin color and people who share it. Then there’s diseases, car accidents, suicides and the list goes on. The process of parental brick s****ing talks begin here with this dead ass baby bird.
I told Liam that the baby bird was dead because its body stopped working and left it at that. I expected to see his ‘WTF’ face but never got it. Later that evening, he told mommy about the baby bird and mentioned it to me a couple of more times before going to bed. Since he hasn’t asked why the bird died I’m not going to push it. It seems that for now he’s just trying to wrap his head around what “dead” is. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t curious about his thoughts and how he will eventually have to come to terms of what we all must – that all living things die.
I’m very curious as to how other parents have handled the death-talk with their children. Some say to be literal and accurate while others say to keep it vague. I’d love to see examples of how you guys have handled it. What was the result?
Larry Hester is a Brooklyn-born writer who’s written for Vibe, BET.com, The Source, Complex and more. He now resides in Newark, New Jersey with his wife and son. He welcomes any parenting advice or encouragement. Check him out on Facebook and Twitter @almostcooldad.