My Son Is Scared Of Dying And I Donâ€™t Know What To Say
My son Ben is notorious for pushing his luck at bedtime â€“ one more story, one more drink of water, one more trip to the washroom. So when I heard noise coming from his room a few nights ago, at first I rolled my eyesâ€¦ until I realized what I was hearing were sobs. I rushed into the room: â€œBen, whatâ€™s wrong? Are you okay?â€
And with tears streaming down his face, he cried, â€œMommy, I want to live forever! I donâ€™t want to die, and Iâ€™m scared!â€
It was the day after his sixth birthday party. He should be worried about whether heâ€™ll forget his lunch on his way to school, or what he should do the next time he and a friend argue. He shouldnâ€™t be weeping on my shoulder about his own mortality. Should he?
Weâ€™ve had conversations about death with Ben before. My husband Sean and I both feel it’s important not to conceal hard truths from kids, so I had my first discussion about dying with Ben when he was barely two, when we came down for breakfast and found one of our cats lying dead on the kitchen floor. (Itâ€™s a testament to how hard a topic this is that I just second-guessed what I wrote â€“ â€œIs it necessary to say â€˜lying deadâ€™? Everyone will know what I meanâ€¦â€) At that age, though, talking about death is just explaining a process: Tashaâ€™s body stopped working, so sheâ€™s not alive any more, and no, sheâ€™s not coming back.
Itâ€™s easier when they donâ€™t really understand what that means.
We had to talk about it more, though, because of Seanâ€™s line of work; he’s a minister. When youâ€™re a minister, you can get a desperate, tearful phone call at any time, and if a family needs you, you go â€“ even if youâ€™re in the middle of dinner, or if youâ€™re about to sit down for a family movie night. We never wanted Ben to think that Sean was leaving for no good reason, or that someone elseâ€™s family was more important than him. So weâ€™ve told him many times, after the phone call and the quiet, solemn conversation, but before Sean heads out the door, that someone has died, and their families are very sad. That Daddy helps them figure out what to do and tries to help them feel a bit better, but that they will miss the person whoâ€™s gone very much.
Itâ€™s easier when youâ€™re talking about someone else.
Ben started asking about what would happen when he died when he was about five. Where would he go? Would we be there? Would our cats come too? How long before it happened? What would it be like?