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