Three days ago, while Em and Or and I were driving around in the car, we passed by a cemetery.
“Mama, what’s that?” Em asked.
“You mean all those rocks?” I said, buying myself a few seconds to come up with an age-appropriate-for-a-three-year-old explanation.
“Yeah, the rocks.” Em said.
“Well, Em, when people grow up to be very old, they go to sleep for a very, very, very long time, and they just keep dreaming forever and ever. And so those rocks are where people are sleeping for a very very long time.”
It’s the best I could come up with, honestly. I know my explanation doesn’t take into account the deaths of young people, and the whole dreaming thing is not exactly scientifically sound, but those were the words that came out of my mouth. Em listened to me and seemed to absorb this very new information I had given her about the world.
Yesterday, C and I were driving the kids to the playground, and we passed by another cemetery.
“Do you remember what mama told you about the rocks, Em?” I asked, curious to see if she had understood any of my weird, spur-of-the-moment definition of death.
“Sleeping,” Em replied.
And then she added, “when I grow up to be big like mama, I am going to go sleep with the rocks, too!”
She said it in that excited tone that toddlers use when they are eager to do something “grown-up”.
To which I responded by crying, rather uncontrollably.
Granted, my hormones may have gotten the better of me, but just the thought of Emmy’s beautiful spirit EVER EVER leaving this earth made my heart break way wide open.
Later in the evening, we learned that our neighbor across the street had just passed away. He lived a hermetic life, and I never actually met him (I only caught glimpses of him a few times). Em was in my arms as we watched police cars arrive and depart from his house throughout the evening. Em didn’t ask any questions, and I didn’t provide any information. I felt like we’d done enough talking about death and dying in 24 hours, and I’d done enough crying for one day.
So here’s my question: What words have you used to explain death to your young (and oh so curious) children?