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Old people die (and other ways I may have confused my kid about death)

Erin Zammett Ruddy

Alex is very curious about death lately. I've told him stories about my grandparents and he knows they’re in heaven and that they were very old when they died. He’s also seen enough Disney movies to grasp the concept that heaven is not just for grandparents (it's for clown fish and lions and all dogs, too). But beyond that, I'm not sure what else he knows--or what else I should tell him. 


The other day Alex and I were driving to a friend’s house and he was doing his usual nonstop verbal diarrhea/interrogation thing and the conversation got a little dark. Here’s a snippet of one of the more disturbing exchanges we had:


Alex: Popsters is really old, right mom? (Popsters is my dad)

Me: Not that old, Al. And he’s in really good shape (I knew where he was going with this...)

Alex: I think I need to start looking for a new mom.

Me: Why?

Alex: Because you’re older than me, mom. I’m only 4 and you’re 44, right?

Me: No, bud, I’m 34. What does my age matter?

Alex: Because you’re older than me…

Me: Al, I’ll always be your mom even when we’re both way older. You don’t need a new one.

Alex: But mom, you’re not going to be here forever. You’re going to heaven in like 70 weeks.

Me: Jesus, Alex, I hope not! (That was my knee-jerk reaction to learning of my impending death). I hope 70 years is more like it.

Alex: Hey mom, want to play the car game?


When I told Nick about my fun chat later that day his response was:

“You want to live to be 104?!”

Clearly he's not phased. And honestly, I know Alex is just curious and I don’t need to make a big deal out of it. I just wonder if there are some appropriate things to say about death—and some things not to say. Because it's definitely on his mind lately. Yesterday we passed a cemetery and he said, “Is that where dead people go, mom?” Eek. I want to give him some age-appropriate information but the death talk is SO not my cup of tea (I think I'd prefer the sex talk). I could not handle the idea of death as a kid at all. I used to lie awake at night obsessing about people I love dying. I still do sometimes. Also, I think beause I have cancer, I take the whole "you're gonna go to heaven in 70 weeks" thing a little more personally than I should*. (I am not at all worried about my cancer coming back, btw, I'm just saying it hits a little closer to home). 

So, what do you tell your kids when they inquire about death or heaven? Have they asked yet? Do you find it a little creepy/uncomfortable too?

*If I were to die in 70 weeks (God forbid, knock on wood), I would want Alex to have a new mom. So long as she's not thinner or prettier or a better cook than me. OMG, this is the most depressing blog ever. Thank God it’s Friday and I have dirty martini in my future!