Death Leads a Young Mind to Old Questions
“I guess the birds went to heaven” Kay said as we walked to the store. “I guess…” I said, not really knowing how to answer that. Three birds had built a nest underneath an apartment air conditioner in our building, but the bird and its eggs fell out, three stories down, killing them instantly. The dead birds were laying there on the ground, and I could tell it bothered Kay a little bit. My sister picked up the birds and we tossed them away.
The concept of death is something we adults think about on a daily basis – our main goal in life is to get to Jannah (or it should be at least). I’ve experienced a lot of death in my life from my grandparents, to my mother-in-law to even just hearing about it in the Muslim community. But have you ever thought about what it’s like for a kid to experience first-hand, the concept of losing someone? I don’t talk about death with my daughter – I can’t bring myself to really say “One day Mommy and Daddy might not be here…” I mean, can any parent really? Now, she does know that things die. Flowers, gold fish, and plants – she sees that all the time. In regards to people? Well, I’m not sure how much she truly understands. Kay has learned in her Sunday Islamic class that people go back to Allah and that one day we will all die. She’s even asked me a few questions about what happens when we die and if it’s just like sleeping. But every time she asks a question, I can’t seem to bring myself to elaborate or talk about it. She’s turning 8 next month and I know that as she gets older, Kay will have more and more questions. I just don’t know how to answer them.
The first time Kay spoke about death was when she was looking at a picture of her late grandmother. She said “Dadi (grandmother) went to Allah”. When I asked her how she knew that, she told me my mother had told her that. Because Kay never got the chance to meet her paternal grandmother, I try to talk about her with Kay, so she has an idea about who her grandma was, but it always goes back to the fact that she isn’t alive anymore. Then Kay will ask questions about how she died and why she died. “There wasn’t enough medicine?” she once asked. *Sigh* How does one answer why her grandmother got Hepatitis C and “why” she did die? Her grandmother is technically the only person that Kay knows that has died. When a relative passes away and I have to go to the family members’ house, I won’t tell her. I just say I need to go to someone’s house and she doesn’t ask any questions. She doesn’t even know what a cemetery is. We pass by one in our neighborhood all the time and I’m waiting for the day she asks what that place is.
Death is such a sensitive topic that I fear I will scare her. We’ve talked about Jannah and how beautiful it will be – she even said she can’t wait to see what it will look like. I can only hope that when the time comes and she has questions, I’ll be able to answer them.
In the meantime, I need your help, readers. Please comment below your best tips, stories or experiences in discussing death with the children in your lives. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, or a figure in a child’s life – how have you talked about this topic with them? What has or has not worked? Did anything go terribly wrong when you discussed it? Also, if you have any book or article recommendations, I would love it if you shared them, too.
By: @MiriamMahmood (MW Contributor)
Miriam is a full time mother, wife and paralegal residing in New York City. Her writing stems from her experiences in this thing called life.