At what age do children begin to talk about death?
Lately, our daughter has been asking me questions that have taken me by surprise. Here is one conversation:
K: Mommy, I wanna ask you a question.
M: Ok, honey.
K: Mommy, are you going to die?
M: (while the shock is washing over me in waves) Yes, someday mommy will
K: But Mommy, when are you going to die?
M: Well, no one ever really knows when they’ll die. If we did, we wouldn’t
live our lives with the joy and happiness we have.
K: But what happens when you die?
M: My body won’t work any more, but my soul will go to heaven and get to
K: What does God look like?
M: I don’t know – but I guess I’ll find out someday!
K: I think he has a beard, and long clothes, and hands, and hair…
M: I’m not sure he looks like a person. He may not look like anything that we
can really understand as we are right now.
K: Yeah. God didn’t die, but Jesus did.
M: Yes, that’s right.
K: But why did Jesus die?
M: The Bible teaches us he died to save us from our sins. Do you know what
M: It’s when we do things God doesn’t want us to do. We aren’t supposed to
lie – that means not telling the truth; we aren’t supposed to covet – that
means wanting things we don’t have; we aren’t supposed to steal – that
means take things that aren’t ours without permission. It also means we
worship God and not things… Like loving money or cars or toys more than
M: Kenzie, I want you to understand that mommy and daddy are going to be
around for a long time. We’ll be here today, and in the future. We
probably aren’t going to die any time soon. In fact, we’ll probably be
around long enough to watch you grow up and become a young woman.
Then she went into talking about a Veggie Tales movie where Jr. Asparagus told a lie and the fib kept getting bigger and bigger… I guess unless you are a parent and watch Veggie Tales and can understand this story – it’s best just to say that Veggie Tales are cartoons that use imagery (the “fib” is from outer space – it’s name is Fib – which of course we as adults know that a fib is a lie – and the more Jr. lies, the bigger “Fib” gets. Jr. has to tell the truth for Fib to become small and insignificant).
Two nights later, we are in bed, and while daddy is getting ready (brushing teeth and washing his face/hands), Kenzie again starts asking questions about death.
K: Mommy…… When are you going to die?
M: Honey, I have no idea. I don’t dwell on that.
K: Mommy, when do you get up again after dying?
M: You don’t. Once you die, you don’t get up.
K: But when do you wake up?
M: You don’t wake up. It’s not like you go to sleep. You simply don’t know
anything anymore because your soul leaves your body.
K: Mommy, just before you die, I’m going to wake you up and make you walk
so you won’t die.
M: (smiling and laughing a little) I don’t think it quite works that way, but you
can try. Mommy would appreciate it.
K: What happens to me if both you and daddy die?
M: You would go to live with Mike and Cindy – remember them? They are the
parents of Emma and LiMei.
K: Yeah… OK. But what happens to me if you die?
M: If I die and daddy is still alive, you would stay with daddy.
K: (grinning) OK. (Pause) But what happens to me if daddy dies?
M: If daddy dies and I’m still alive, you would stay with me. If we are both
dead, you would live with Mike and Cindy.
K: Ok, that’s good. But mommy, when is the future?
M: The future is… “not now”. It could be 10 days from now or 10 years from
now or 100 years from now. It is what will happen next – but hasn’t
K: Yeah, but when is the future?
OK, that is a difficult concept to explain… I’m willing to take suggestions from anyone out there who can help.
Then I kept trying to tell her that her daddy and I would be around for a very long time. (My husband had to interject that we’d probably be around for longer than she’d care for us to be – that was supposed to be his attempt at humor, but it was a bit lost on a 4 year old…)
I can’t help but think how precious our daughter is. She is asking questions that I thought originally must have been because of some discussion at her [Christian] daycare… but found out that no one I talked with had said anything about death. However, a couple of the children have had relatives die… so perhaps she is trying to process that. I didn’t really expect questions about death until she was a little bit older. I feel a bit like that commercial “Life comes at you fast…”