“So Grandpa Was Eaten By a T-Rex?”

The Death Talk.

As parents most of us dread it. I know I feel that way. The difficult part is you never know how it’s going to rear its ugly head or under what circumstances. Will you have to do it when the family pet dies? Or worse, a relative or friend? And at what age are you supposed to bring this up for the first time? How old do they have to be before they even get what the hell you’re talking about?

I still don’t know the answers to these questions, but Will put me to the test recently.

If you’re new to my little corner of the Internet, my grandfather died a month ago after a period of declining health and a move to a nursing home. We lovingly referred to him as “Grandpa Choo-Choo” because of his love for trains. My grandmother died during the summer of 2009, but it was actually easier for us because Will was far too young to have any clue about death. But now that he’s almost 3, it’s a different story.

So when he asked about Grandpa Choo-Choo’s death I felt like I was at a real crossroads. Do I give him a fairytale version of events or do I gently level with him as best you can with a toddler? Being a rather direct person, I chose the latter. But not being a believer in God, heaven, hell, etc it makes it even tougher because I refuse to say “He’s up with the angels in heaven.” So here’s how that conversation went. Will, obviously, is in bold.

“Dada, what happen to Grandpa Choo-Choo?”

“Well buddy, Grandpa Choo-Choo died.”

“We visit him in hospital?”

“No kiddo, I’m sorry. We can’t visit Choo-Choo. He died so that means he’s not here anymore.”

“Where he go?”

“He went to…a better place.”

“Oh. Right. Better place. Like McDonalds?”

“Not quite. You see bud he was really old and he got sick. And unfortunately he died and that means we can’t see him anymore. But we can always remember him and love him.”

“Grandpa Choo-Choo die like Mufasa? (Simba’s dad who dies in the Lion King, one of Will’s favorite movies)

(I’m pumped because I view this as a great way to explain it in simple terms)

“Yeah. Like when Mufasa died. Exactly buddy, you’ve got it.”

“Oh. So Grandpa Choo-Choo run over by wildebeests?”

“No no no pal, Choo-Choo wasn’t run over by wildebeests. I just mean that he…ummm…well buddy, do you remember the Dinosaur movie you like? Do you remember when Kron died and everyone was sad but they just had to remember him and go on with their lives?”

“So…Grandpa Choo-Choo eaten by T-Rex?”

“Dammit. No. Wow. Uh, ok…how do I explain this?”

“Dada, who killed Grandpa Choo-Choo?”

“Oh no buddy, no one killed Grandpa Choo-Choo. He was just really old and really sick.”

“But Dada, Mom say you is sick. You die like Grandpa Choo-Choo?”

“Oh sweetie, no no no no no. I’m not gonna die right now. You don’t die every time you get sick. I’m much younger than Grandpa Choo-Choo. I know this is confusing and I’m not explaining it well. But when Grandpa Choo-Choo died he had lots of boo-boos and no medicine could fix it. So one day he just went to sleep and he didn’t wake up again.”

“I NO WANNA GO SLEEP AGAIN! I NO WANNA GO SLEEP AGAIN!”

“Oh shit. I didn’t mean for it to sound like that.”

“Shit Dada.”

“Oh wow. Worst dad ever. Uhhhh….ummmm….I’ve got it! Screw it. Wanna get some chicken nuggets at McDonalds buddy?”

“YAY!!!”

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11 thoughts on ““So Grandpa Was Eaten By a T-Rex?”

  1. It’s funny you bring this up, I just read a fantastic blog post on Girl Gone Child about this exact topic. Her tone is a little more serious but brought up some good points.

    http://www.girlsgonechild.net/

    Maybe you can take Will to Mickey D’s before he goes to bed. HA!

  2. Sorry but it was a little funny, reading your fumblings with death. I did not want to talk to Aiden about death when my aunt died. He was 2 and a half and I just felt too young. My sister somehow told him though. Although I know he didn’t and probably still doesn’t quite grasp it. He thinks heaven is the sky and she the brightest star in the sky. So every night we are out and he sees a really bright star he says look mama there’s tia Andrea, she is in heaven and shining down on us. I can live with that for a while. I know people will get mad because I’m skirting the issue but it was a horrible thing that happened and there is no way to explain that. And he doesn’t need to know. So I let him continue believing what he believes and probably because it makes me feel better whenever he says that too.

  3. I’m so sorry for your loss, and for the struggles you’re experiencing in telling your son – but that’s one hilarious conversation.

    And really, what would it hurt to just let him believe Grandpa Choo-Choo pissed off a wildebeest? I mean, other than the shame he’ll experience when he casually mentions that to his new college roommate.

  4. Yeah, I’m pretty sure my 4 year old thinks that people can really become zombies. Oh well. We talk pretty openly about death, but I’m not sure how it will go the first time we have to explain a person dying to him.

  5. Sorry to hear about the loss of your grandfather. (I’ve been casually following your blog since the pro-lifer video- it’s an insightful, funny blog.) When I was three, my grandmother died- shortly after the Lion King came out. I think my mother used the Mufasa explanation with me, because I also thought of the wildebeests. So Will definitely isn’t alone in that!

  6. When my father died, my two year old nephew watched solemnly as the coffin was lowered, only to ask, “how’s Grandpa going to get out?”, expecting him to come home with us. It took a long time for him to accept his beloved Grandpa Mick was not going to be around any more. It wasn’t until he was much older that he grasped the fact.

    Another one of my nephews, now two, visits the grave with my sister. He only recently understood that it meant something to do with death when he described finding dead flies as them having “stopped” after buzzing around. The next time he visited the cemetery he told my sister, without prompting, that Grandpa Mick had “stopped” too, like the flies. That was a good biological explanation really.

  7. Those are hard conversations but you have to have them. When my son was 3.5 he asked me not to die. It was painful for me because I could see/hear the fear in his eyes/voice. I don’t think that there are are any right answers here other than to make your son feel comfortable.

  8. While I sympathize and empathize with you on your loss, I gotta say that the conversation made my husband and I laugh out loud, literally. We haven’t had to cross that bridge yet, since my daughter was only about 4 months old when my grandfather died. Barring unforeseen circumstances, she should be old enough to start emotionally grasping the issue by the time any other close relatives die.

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