Thursday, May 26, 2011

Discussing Death

In a Babycentre mailer this morning I received this link on discussing death with preschoolers. I thought I would write about it because it's been surfacing in our lives in recent months.

The thing about the boy is, there is so much going on in that little head that we have no idea about. Sometimes Ma and Mejopishi and Vicky mention how he confides in them about his fears and missing people he loves.

In March or April this year he was running my mother ragged while on a visit to her. Eventually she begged him to cut her some slack because she was growing old and couldn't keep up. To her surprise, instead of cracking up at the idea of "Didi" being old, he became very serious and asked if that meant she too would soon become a star in the sky. He explained that he had had a grandfather who died and became a star in the sky and if Didi too left him then how would he manage with her so far away?

My mother took it very seriously and explained that she wasn't that old and she would actually be around for many years yet. She reassured him and cuddled him and the moment passed. She told me about it later and it shook me.

Death defined the end of an era for me, for all of us cousins. My paternal grandfather died when I was nine and with him ended a lifetime of love and security as only he could provide. That is partly why I was so devastated for Rahul when Baba died. I knew what had gone even while I was glad that my father-in-law himself was out of his pain.

I watched Rahul stop asking about his 'Thakur', stop even stopping by his photographs, slowly relegate him to the past. I wondered if he had forgotten him but I suspected some sense of that bond remained. We have and do talk about him to Rahul, Vicky especially, and tell him stories to keep what we can alive.

The hardest thing was explaining to him what had happened to his grandfather. I remembered explaining death to two baby cousins when their grandfather (my great-uncle) died. These two little girls were wandering around a big house and wondering what had happened. I took them to the balcony and showed them the stars over the lake in front of the house and said that he had gone away to become a star. That, funnily enough, seemed to be something they could grasp. Of course, I told their mother what I had said so she could deal with further questions. My aunt is the relaxed sort who luckily did not take offence at my explanation. I gave Rahul the same explanation when his grandfather died. It was not something he referred to much in the two years since then but he has obviously thought a great deal about it.

Aunty D lost her father last month. My mother and I spent the day with her, I returning home in the evening while Ma stayed back. Vicky, Rahul and I picked Ma up in the evening to take her out to dinner (she was, unsurprisingly, exhausted). After we had dropped her home and were going home ourselves, Rahul suddenly asked us if Aunty D's father had become a star in the sky too. This was a few weeks after his chat with my mother so I braced myself. Sure enough, he started on my mother dying and leaving him behind. I had tears in my own eyes, it had been a difficult day, but I told him that she wasn't going to die for ever and ever and when she eventually did, she'd see him everywhere instead of only being around when she was in town. She could talk to him all the time from within and he would have her with him always. I don't know how much that comforted him but he seemed to consider the matter and seemed satisfied with the explanation.

Is this what the experts would recommend? I don't know. But I do believe in rebirth and have always been comforted by the idea of my grandfather being around somewhere, able to see me, being proud of me.

Being a parent isn't easy. Being a parent and a child simultaneously seems even harder.


Phoenixritu said...

And being human and having a sense of loss when faced with mortality is the hardest. Stay strong. You are doing an awesome job

dipali said...

The good part is that you do talk about it, even though one wonders what a young child actually grasps of death, apart from a permanent absence. Death has been a presence in our lives for a while now- over the last several years of his life my father was convinced that he would not see the next new year, and it became a running joke between us, with me veering between only God knows and God only knows. I think the concept of rebirth is a comforting one, and a little comfort does no harm.
Personally, I would love to reach a state in which I could live each day as though it were my last, and yet as though I was simultaneously immortal. Of course we all are both!
I do love Sant Kabir's verse on this
Saans saans par naam ley
Vyattha saans mat khoye
Kya jaaney is saans ka
Aawan hoey na hoey
(Take God's name with every breath
Do not waste a single one
Who knows if this breath
will come again or not)

R's Mom said...

God! it is definitely scary...I think I really liked your idea of the person becoming a star and of course Vicky doing the job of keeping the memories alive by telling stories....I dont think there is a better explanation to give to children..hugs Sue

Gayatri said...

-"Being a parent and a child simultaneously seems even harder."
- Those words are so true...
- Its so tuff to explain something you haven't really figured out urself!
- I'm so scared and insecure when it comes to dealing with 'The end'..leave alone the rebirth somebody and the thought of them not being there suddenly ...gosh! I can't deal with that

Sue said...

Ritu -- Thanks, Ritu. It was horrible watching Rahul, then only two, slowly watch his grandfather sicken and die. He kept asking us and all we could tell him was that his grandfather was ill. That's not enough, is it...

Dipali -- I've settled for living each day like the next might not come. That means preparing the boy for such an eventuality. Although I finally understand why that first wife kept coming back as a bhoot in Hum Paanch. How can one possibly rest in peace while somebody else is raising their kid(s)!

R's Mom -- I think it works both ways. Telling Rahul about his father helps Vicky keep his own memories alive.

Gayatri -- I come from a family of people who don't live long usually due to ill health. Mortality is a bit of an obsession with me, I suspect.