“I’ll always be able to count on you, won’t I mummy?” Freya asked.
We were sat at the dining table where she was drawing before dinner.
“Of course. Always.” I answered, gently rubbing her back. She looked up from her work and smiled sweetly. What a lovely mother/daughter moment.
“Not when you’re dead,” she added.
I didn’t even flinch. “Well, no, maybe not then.”
I’m getting used to having my hopefully not impending demise thrust in my face. It’s like some sort of hardcore therapy.
As an older mum, dying before she’s grown is a background worry. It was one of those things that used to keep me awake at night when I was pregnant and a billion hormones were racing around my body causing havoc. What if I’m not there when she’s a teenager; when she goes to uni; when she goes off backpacking (and I can’t go with her); when she gets married? Maybe younger mums worry about that sort of thing too? Maybe having children makes you think more about your own mortality?
People, young and old, die everyday. I figured there was no point in thinking about something I largely have no control over. So I didn’t. Or at least I tried not to. Until now, when that option has rather been taken away from me.
I know just who to blame for her current fascination with death. I’m looking at you, Pixar and Disney.
An advert for their new film, Coco, came on television one night and prompted a discussion about Day Of The Dead. I think I did a pretty good job of explaining what it was in a positive and hopeful way – as, to me, it seems like a colourful, life-affirming holiday.
But then, later, as we all sat snuggled together in the warm, darkened living room in the wind down before bed, she shocked us when she said to Mark: “If you die, I’ll be fine because mummy will be here to look after me.”
It was the almost “nur nur ne nur nur” way she said it that took us by surprise. I turned from raising my eyebrows at Mark, back to Freya to try and find something appropriate to say. Before I had chance her little face crumbled.
“But…but…if you die,” she said to me. “I will be all on my own.”
Big fat tears started rolling down her face. She looked utterly heartbroken. And then, suddenly, I was crying too.
Wait, what. No. That isn’t supposed to happen – although she had just tapped straight into one of my nightmares so maybe it’s forgivable?
I wiped away my tears and Mark and I both worked to reassure her that we are not going to die and, even if we did, she has lots of people who love her, including my brother who has already agreed to raise her should anything happen to us.
It seemed to sooth her.
We’ve had further conversations about what happens when you die. I was actually worried about this – as someone without any religious faith – but I’ve been able to talk to her about all sorts of beliefs (it just so happened that our local mosque was holding an open day so I was able to take her there too as part of our general learning). I explained that when she’s older she will be able to decide what she does or doesn’t believe in, just like I did.
She seemed ok about it but the four-year-old mind is a mysterious beast and now, every so often, she’ll just randomly drop it into conversation. We might be talking about something completely unrelated or be in the middle of the food shop. At first I asked her if she had anything else she wanted to say about it but it seems she just wants to let me know that she knows. It’s like living with some sort of mini Grim Reaper.
Now most of our conversations go a bit like this.
Her in the middle of dinner: “I’ll miss you when you die, Mummy.”
Me: “Thank you. Eat some more peas.”
I know it’s fairly normal at her age to start thinking about death but have any of you got any tips? Anything specific I should or shouldn’t be doing?
15 thoughts on “Talking About Death With A Four-Year-Old.”
Maybe Pixar could remake Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? Flying cars much easier to explain.
Hah! Good point. I was thinking of taking her to see Coco but not only is it a million pounds to go to the cinema and she’s not one for sitting still but I don’t want to make things worse.
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Wait until it comes round to the Odeon cinema club!
My grandparents had to endure me walking round their house as a child, picking up things I liked and saying “When you die, can I have this please?” I can remember thinking that I was just being practical, just in case there was all this stuff left behind that nobody knew what to do with.
(Obviously as adults they saw me as a pint-sized pillager staking my claim on items or threatening to have a tantrum if they said no!)
Hah! I’m sure that will come next, she already has her eyes on my jewellery. Thanks for commenting, you’ve made me feel better about her latest fascination 🙂
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Tara, what a lovely blog. Small children can drop bombshells into the conversation in a completely random and unexpected way. For them, it’s just part of the process. For the adult on the receiving end, it can take their breath away. I think you have exactly the right attitude. Take it on the chin and get her to eat lots more peas.
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Thank you, Susanna. My mum and dad were always quite matter of fact about talking about it with me and I’d like to continue that with her. Hopefully if anything is worrying her she would talk to me about it but I definitely think it’s more shocking for me than her at the moment 🙂
What a thoughtful blog, Tara. I’ve had similar conversations with my daughter both when she was small and now as a teen. Because of family bereavements, death has (unfortunately) been an immediate part of her life from a young age, but I found being as matter of fact with her as possible helped. I also talked to the lovely librarian at my then local library and she suggested some age-appropriate books that helped my daughter process death in the context of her own worldview. Whilst these conversations don’t get any easier, they’re part of lots of conversations that as a mum I’ve found shocking over the years!
Oh I have been dreading these kind of talks, my daughter keeps asking ‘why do some people die?’ and other such interesting questions. And I have no idea what to say, I can’t think of the ‘right’ thing to say. I am sure that I am overthinking things but I still can’t help but feel that this is one of those ‘big’ questions that I need to answer properly.
Oh, I know. It’s tough! I’ve done a lot of winging it and some ‘we should look that up on the internet’. I try and give Freya a range of answers.
Oh bless her, it’s such a difficult one isn’t it? I remember becoming aware of the concept of death at a similar age and having lots of questions. It sounds like you did a good job of reassuring her though even if it must be disconcerting to have it just brought up in conversation at random moments. I like the idea of discussing different beliefs surrounding death and the mosque open day sounds like it was a good thing to do. I’ve not yet had this kind of discussion with either of my girls but I’m sure it will happen at some point. Thank you for sharing with #ftmob
It sounds like the movie inspired her questions and worries, but in time this phase will pass. I don’t remember my sons talking about death until they lost their grandfather, very young at ages 5 and 7. There was a great book my sister in law got for them about a leaf named Freddy and his fall from the tree ( death but it was told so gently that it helped a bit.) Like you and most mamas, my worry was that I wouldn’t live to see my sons raised and stable. But with prayer and hope the anxiety went away. Now here I am, with grown sons, one in college and another marrying this summer. I’m sure your life will unfold this way too and you’ll see your beautiful daughter grow before your eyes. 💗🌈
Sending hugs 🤗