There is so much to try to understand about death and we try to keep these conversations very basic and simple with our daughter. Bella knows she can ask us anything and we’ll do our best to explain it, but there are times we just have to tell her, “We don’t know honey. No one does.”
We believe your soul goes to heaven when you die. We’ve tried to explain a soul to her, but that’s like trying to explain why the sun is hot. We don’t even understand it, so I use a lot of upward hand gestures.
The other day we found a pigeon in our backyard that was very sick. My husband Sam has a very tender heart for this stuff, so he put it in the kiddie pool with a bit of water at the end to see if it would drink anything. It died that night, and he told me he’d bury it the next day. I got up that morning to let our dog out, and Bella followed. She spotted the bird in the pool, and pointed. “Oh Mama, the bird is dead.” I nodded. She stared at it confused. “Why is it still here then?”
Ah, that question. I explained to her that when you die, your body does stay on earth, but it’s empty. And your soul, the part of you that laughs and cries, goes to heaven. I used my hands to lift from my chest up, showing her a “soul” the best I could. Like a heart. She kept looking at the bird.
“Where is its head?” From her angle, it did look headless. I told her the head was there, but that she couldn’t see it at the moment.
As we went inside, she ran up to Sam and said, “A bird died outside. Its body stayed here,” and she motioned her hands upwards just like I had for the soul, “But its head fell off and went to heaven.”
Sam looked at me like perhaps we needed to chat about death ourselves, and then she said, “One day when I die my head will fall off too.”
He put his head down and started shaking with laughter as Bella watched us both with wide eyes. I could see her little brain trying to figure it all out and I really knew at this point I probably couldn’t butcher it much more. I said, “Oh Bella, no no honey, your head stays on when you die.”
We talked more about how our heads stay on – although I’m not really sure I explained it all that well. I can’t imagine how long she’d thought her three brothers’ heads went to heaven.
When she went to play after that, Sam and I sat on the couch and laughed until we cried about headless death. I gasped, “This is so awful, so horribly morbid that we even have to discuss this with her and then we screw it all up anyway. Our poor kid thinking people’s heads fall off.” It was one of those moments in life where you realize you can’t separate laughter, sadness, grief, death, and life. It’s all stuck together, and sometimes inappropriately so.
Especially when your mother explains death in a way that makes you think your head falls off.
Photo credit: istockphotos.com
Diana blogs at Diana Wrote about her life with a daughter here and three sons in heaven, life as an army wife, and her faith. You can also find her work on Liberating Working Moms, She Reads Truth, The New York Times, Still Standing Magazine, and The Huffington Post. Smaller glimpses into her day are on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
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