We did a little bit of bargaining in the wake of my daughter’s fish’s death — if that’s what you’d call it when we offered to get her a new fish, and five seconds later she was thinking up names for it. Other than that, my kids skipped right over denial, anger and depression and went straight to acceptance.
This morning, we brought home Sutton’s new fish, Matilda, named after her favorite book, musical and second-favorite movie (behind James and the Giant Peach). Before we’d even transferred Matilda into her permanent tank, Sutton was thinking up names for the next fish she’d get after Matilda died. (The current front-runner for the next fish’s name: Sutton). Then, Bennett started thinking up names for the fish he’d get after his current fish, Sulley, died. (Current front-runner: Bennett).
Drew and I tried to keep the conversation about fish, but it didn’t take long before the kids made the connection that people die, too.
“Someday, I’m going to die,” Bennett announced. He sounded almost happy about it, like he was just pleased to be included in something that had been such a big topic of conversation for us. Little did he know he was uttering my worst fear out loud.
“Not for a long time,” we assured him. “A long, long, long, long, long, long, long [I actually think we’re still saying ‘long’] time.”
Sutton took it a step further. “Someday, Roald Dahl is going to die,” she said.
“He already did, actually. Quite a few years ago.”
“Oh. Well, I think he left some stories for after he died.”
“Yeah, that’s the nice thing about when people die. They always leave behind wonderful things for us, whether it’s their books or the memories they gave to all the people who loved them.”
There’s something both wonderful and incredibly disturbing about seeing my kids so at peace with death. I know they don’t fully understand what they’re talking about, and that’s part of what makes me so uncomfortable. I’m torn between changing the subject and shaking them violently and screaming, “Death is everywhere, and it’s permanent and horrible and it’s coming for all of us and sometimes, it’s all I think about! Fear death! Fear death!”
But I calm myself down, acknowledge what they say and try to move on, because they’re still processing what happened, and for now at least, I’m the one who has a problem with it, not them. It’s probably the right course to take, but it does require me and Drew to have our guts ripped out over and over from the things they come up with. Like this gem, from Bennett, which I typed down verbatim after he said it:
“The day before I die, I’m going to say goodbye to you guys and I’m going to do a happy dance and then I’m going to die and you’re going to drive me to the cemetery.”
I hear things like that coming from my 4-year-old’s mouth and wonder how I can go on. Then I realize what beautiful and amazing kids I have, and I picture my son doing his happy dance, and once again, I’ve forgotten about death and I’m thinking about life instead.