Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Death Comes for Biscuit

Talking to children about death, especially when you have atheistic leanings , is never easy. You don’t want to mention Heaven, or earth for that matter. You don’t want to bring God or any master plan into play. You just want to say that they are gone and hope that’s enough to keep the questions at bay for awhile.

Recently, Phoebe would ask, “where’s your Grandma?” “Where’s your Grandpa?” She’d ask me or my parents and we would typically just say, “They are gone now.” One of her babysitters, Siobhan told Phoebe that her dog had died. Phoebe translated that conversation to me by saying, “Siobhan’s dog dived.” “Like under the water?” I asked. And she confidently nodded, yes. So we left it at that. To die or to dive, seemed about the same for the moment. Then her class hamster, the beloved Biscuit, took a dive. Phoebe was sent home with a note for the parents along with an article on how to speak to your children about death. The article said, “The most difficult part is examining your own feelings and beliefs so you can talk about them naturally with your children when the opportunities arise.” Growing up in a secular household, I remember being fascinated by death. I knew I had Catholic friends who believed in Heaven, and I was almost jealous of their certainty. Being an Atheist means embracing the unknown. I once heard death described as a “Secret” that you can’t know the answer to until you get there. Phoebe did not seem to want to know more about what happened to Biscuit. She seemed to like saying the word ‘dead’ and knowing that it meant ‘gone.’ Should she ask again sometime, maybe I’ll say that Biscuit now knows the secret of death. At this moment, I just feel grateful that the very first experience she has had with loss was a hamster. When the time comes for us to lose someone special to us, she will have had an the gentlest possible introduction to one of the hardest things we face as humans. Biscuit, thanks for teaching my girl this difficult lesson, rest in peace little friend.

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