Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Talking About Death

After Iggy died, Conan naturally asked about him. Not too frequently (we've got three other cats to distract him) but once in a while he'd say "Where Iggy?" or "Iggy outside?" and I'd simply tell him that Iggy didn't live with us anymore. I was rather proud of this answer, since it is completely factual and doesn't raise any potentially uncomfortable or scary questions about death. Conan would accept this answer and usually change the topic (he's got the attention span of, well, a two-year-old).

Then one weeknight, as I was bustling around trying to get dinner on the table before we all got too cranky to eat, he asked again. Distracted, I blurted "Iggy doesn't live with us anymore, remember? He died." Ooops.

Conan's eyes got wide. You could see the gears turning as he pondered this new revelation. Uh-oh, I thought. This could get ugly. I was envisioning tears, wailing, maybe even nightmares. How can I explain death to a little child? Philosophers, religions, scientists and shamans have been trying to come to an understanding of death for centuries - and they weren't suddenly put on the spot in the middle of dinner.

Then, very seriously, Conan asked "And his tail died too?"
Yes, I said, and his tail too. "And his nose died too?" Yes, and his nose. "And his feets died too?" Yes, those too. We went through all the cat anatomy Conan has words for, and I confirmed that yes, they had all died.

Finally satisfied with body parts, Conan had one further question: "Iggy no eat cat food anymore?" Nope, I confirmed. Iggy doesn't eat cat food anymore.

And with that, Conan was content. Iggy died. All the parts of him died. He doesn't eat. Iggy doesn't live with us anymore, end of story. No crying, no wailing, no existential questions about the nature of life or death.

Someday, years from now, Conan will surely learn more about death and loss, as we all must. But I was really struck by the beauty of his acceptance of it, and the purity of his curiosity. And of course, relieved.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Moira was around 3 when her firat betta died. It was a big deal with lots of crying and freaking out that she might die too. She slept in our room that night :( We went out with her and burried ponyo in the yard. She was also very curious to know if he would eat or breath anymore. Obviously these are important determing factors for life in little kids. I know it's going to be really hard around here when Loki passes away. THe girls LOVE him sooo much. Not looking forward to it at all.