Explaining death to a child
Olivia and I were shocked by the sight of a dead cat on the sidewalk. It wasn’t just about seeing roadkill, but the entire nature of our discovery.
We were walking along a busy road to the store. We were engrossed in our conversation when we looked down and, three feet ahead of us, saw a cat sleeping on a piece of cardboard in front of a store. Because the cat was black, any stains, blowflies, or other trauma was concealed by the darkness of the fur.
We love animals, and I know her typical response to seeing any cute creature is a loud “Awwww!” When I’m with her, to be cutesy, I do it with her.
In two seconds, we were right in front of the cat. We stopped to see if it would wake up, so maybe we could pet it.
In two more seconds, we realized it was dead, and one of its eyes was hanging out. It was quite disturbing. We recoiled and gasped in the same moment, then kept walking.
I enjoyed a long career as a news reporter. That means I’ve seen enough death. Still, this stung a bit.
We came expecting a living kitty, but our expectations were spun around, and in a most grotesque fashion. Imagine how this child is feeling.
She looked stunned for some minutes, so I hugged her and asked her if she needed to talk. She said no. I said we could talk about it later if she wanted. Then I quickly changed the subject to something fun.
On the way home, she asked if we could walk on the other side of the street. Of course we could. I wanted to, also. The cat made me sad.
At bedtime, she admitted, “I’m still scared because of the cat.” I knew I should say more, but what? What do you say about that?
Finally, I said, “It seems it was hit by a car, so hopefully it died quickly. When animals and people are hurt very badly, they go into shock, and they don’t feel pain either. Let’s hope it didn’t suffer much. And as sad as it was to see, it’s a reminder that life is short, so while you’re here, you do great things and fill your life up with happiness. Love others, and love yourself.”
Then I led her to my Buddhist altar, where we said a prayer for the cat’s soul. We asked that it reincarnates into a better life, like a pet who will be loved and happy, and will bring happiness to others.
We then laid in bed, where she wanted to be held. “You’re my favorite person in the world,” I murmured to her.
“You’re mine,” she said back. I laid there for a long time, well past my arm falling asleep, and thought about wanting to absorb all my child’s sadness and fear.
I know she will have to make her way in the world, and I know I can’t protect her from everything. But tonight I can, or at least I can try.
One thought on “Explaining death to a child”
Aww. You handled it great. That was tough.