Conversations on death with a 4yo
I was out of town when Jomo, a kitty, shuffled off this mortal coil earlier this year. She died right outside of the 4yo’s door, but was discovered by Kim before any kiddos woke. As such Maggie never saw Jomo dead and we didn’t mention it to her for quite a while.
At some point Maggie started wondering where Jomo was and we said she’d gone off for a while. This was common with Jomo, she liked finding other owners for a month or two. She did not like being a 7 pound cat around small kids. I fully understood her devotion to location change.
At some point a few weeks later Maggie started wondering why Jomo didn’t love her any more (didn’t come around,) and it seemed like it was probably time to tell her that she had not done anything wrong, Jomo did not dislike her, tentatively discuss that Jomo was not coming back.
I had this discussion because Maggie believed she was responsible for the cat running away and hating her. I explained that the cat never hated her, the cat just loved sleep and not being stepped on by 35 pound monkeys, and that she would return if she could but that at this point there was no way for her to return.
Maggie accepted that Jomo was not working any more, however the idea of a permanent state of unworking animal was not sticking. This was ok as I just wanted her to grasp that she was not to blame for the cat not being around.
The next week we were asked about getting robot parts to fix the cat. She was informed that robot parts would not fix this as we didn’t know what broke in the cat (we’ve got a guess, but the cat was ~15 years so who knows,) and that the cat was in a state where she could not be repaired.
Maggie took this as “…yet”.
She told a lot of people that Jomo had died and didn’t die because of her, I felt this was a good start. She asked me several times over the next few months about it, verifying that she had nothing to do with it and Jomo didn’t hate her. She asked a few times when she would be back and then announced she knew she was not because the kitty got dead.
She asked one day about whether anyone else died. I said yes. She told me something her daycare had said that Jesus had died and now helped children sleep. I told her that was an interesting interpretation of that and we’d talk about that at some other point. She currently is of the opinion that Jesus and Mister Sandman are the same character.
I told her in my life I’d known a few people who died. I didn’t feel the need to discuss that everyone dies at some point. Not feeling like saying “hey honey, see Caillou there? He’s going to die” even though every parent who watches that thinks that with glee I think.
She’s asked for another pet. At the moment this is a no. There’s not enough hours in the day for the parents to handle the kids and another pet, and as a four year old Maggie does not have the memory or dedication to commit to this yet.
Every now and then the conversation will turn to death. As long as I’ve been able to answer her questions it’s seemed thus far to be far less uncomfortable than I recall my introductions being in which someone lied to me to attempt to spare me details and instead instilled a terror that the duststorms I was hearing about were composed of dead humans.
We discussed a little about my mom, she asked. I started to tell her some of the things but she got distracted because she’s four, and didn’t know her grandma on that side.
As far as I know I’ve not used euphemisms, managed to terrify her, or mislead her. I think that’s all I can hope for in a learning experience as we’ve not reached any books which ponder end of life.