Explaining Death

How do you explain what “dead” means to a 2-year-old?  Most people would shrug and say, “You don’t.”  But what if the 2-year-old keeps asking?

The other night while making supper, Husband and I were conversing about one of his employees at work.  I mentioned something about the employee’s parents and Husband said that the person’s mother was dead.  Little Miss heard that word, which was new to her vocabulary, and asked, “Mommy, Daddy, Little Miss dead?”

“No, sweetie,” I corrected her gently.  She didn’t give up.

“Little Miss dead?”

“No, honey…being dead means you sleep for a really really really long time.  You sleep, but you wake up in the morning.  Being dead means not waking up in the morning.”  I didn’t really know what I was saying. Every single word was coming out of my mouth before my brain had processed what the “right” answer should be.  My daughter is two years old, how much of this topic could she possibly understand?!?

Gratefully, I didn’t have to explain any more; I kissed her forehead and went back to making supper, leaving her playing with her bowls and cups on the other side of the kitchen.

This conversation came to mind again since last night’s episode of Little Miss asking to see Ryann, her little friend who died at 18 months in May.  Death is such a complicated topic.  Even adults don’t agree on what happens when the life leaves your body, so how can we possibly explain it to toddlers or even children?  Just how much do you say?  You don’t want to scare them, but they need to know that the dark side of life on this planet exists.

I guess death is just something of which you try to soften the blow for as long as possible, until a close friend or family member dies when they’re just old enough to understand that person is gone forever, and then suddenly the world is a bad place.  And you’ll realize the child is no longer innocent.

We can’t shield our children from death and evil forever.  But now…I fully understand wanting to.


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