Explaining Death To A Child

Where did the dog go?



Mercutio Mathews, RIP

My daughter was there when our dog died. I was holding his still warm body, tears in my eyes, when she toddled in. It was his time, but I wasn’t sure if she would understand. What she would understand. But she was just curious. She just wanted to come closer.

Death had no hold over her, not then. That’s changing.

When you grow up around animals you can’t avoid death. Dead mosquitos, dead flies, these don’t even register. Half frozen geckos falling out of the freezer, flicking off their still moving tails in fear, somewhat ordinary. Dead baby birds, being pushed out of their nest onto our balcony, almost seasonal. The neighborhood rabbits, chickens, ducks, goats, they all die. Death is everywhere, and nowhere, because it isn’t us.

Two of the baby ducks died, and she found them

Recently, however, she’s putting putting stuff together. That we’re animals, that some of us are old. Recently she’s been asking if we’ll die, if her great-grandparents will die. And what that means. It’s a tough one.

The easy answer is to tell her that dead people (and animals?) just go somewhere else, like heaven. But I don’t think this is true. From my readings, Christian/Muslim heaven is actually a time, not a place. Everyone waits around till Judgement Day, to be resurrected and, like, filed. But I’m not even Christian/Muslim, and I’m not prepared to discuss eschatology with someone I still have scatalogical debates with.

I’m a Buddhist, and as a Buddhist the usual answer would be rebirth, but I haven’t found this in my meditation and don’t believe in it. I come back as a dog, or a different type of human, depending on a complex karmic scorecard that I can’t even remember the beginning of?

This is why we’re not raising the kids as any religion, because narcotics should only be used by adults.

She’s still looking at me. I know the answers to everything and this should be an easy one, right? But I’ve never been there.




Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at www.indi.ca, or just email me at indi@indi.ca.