In play, she’ll stretch out on the floor and say, “I’m dead.” Or jump on top of me or my husband when we're roughhousing and say, “You’re dead.”
I try not to take it too seriously. After all, she's just a kid. But my own loss is still recent enough that it hurts to hear her say those words. Part of me wants to grab her by the shoulders and ask, “Do you understand what you’re saying? Do you know how much it hurts when someone you love dies?”
Of course she doesn’t. At four years old, a child’s grip on time is tenuous at best—and this is a kid who falls asleep in the car in the afternoon and wakes up thinking it’s the next day. There’s no way she can conceive of the permanence of death.
This kind of behaviour is normal for her stage of development. I’ve read the articles, and they advise taking it slow, giving her just the information she needs to satisfy her curiosity. When I’ve asked my daughter what she thinks “dead” means, she says, “It means you’re not here anymore.”
True enough—but it's not like taking an extended holiday. When you experience the loss of someone you love, it changes you, shapes the person you will become. Part of me wants her to understand that.
But a bigger part of me wants her never to understand.
I want both of my daughters to grow up strong and brave, open to experience all of the joys that life has to offer. But that means they’ll also be exposed to the struggles and setbacks that come with them.
As mothers, we want to be superheroes to our children. From the beginning, our natural instinct is to protect them. We want to shield them from the losses and pain that are an inevitable part of growing up, but that’s a losing battle.
I know I’ll eventually have to explain to my daughter what death really means...but not today, okay?
Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up, my little one. It will happen before you know it. For now, just be a kid. And let me protect you for just a little while longer.