The email came at night. I read it on my phone while getting ready for bed. It was from Big Girl’s Kindergarten teacher. I read her words and then read them again.
What I learned: That day at school, a child shared an album of family photos. And then this child told the class that her mother was no longer here. Per the teacher, this prompted a lengthy conversation about death. Now, these kids are five and six years old and have varying understandings of what it means to die. And, per the teacher, they talked about all of this, what it means to die, what it means to lose someone.
Big Girl’s teacher handled all of this more than appropriately, and emailed us parents to let us know what was discussed in case our kids mentioned anything, or had questions.
Big Girl hadn’t said anything. And I didn’t know whether to bring it up, or let it go. On the one hand, I didn’t want to make a deal of this, to create anxiety where there wasn’t any to begin with. On the other hand, I know my kid; she is a keen observer, a pensive and often sensitive child. I had no doubt that the the classroom conversation affected her, at least some.
And so I asked her about it. We were in the back of a taxi. On the way to school the next day. And when I asked her, she was very straightforward. She said that her friend (this little girl is someone Big Girl already loves) shared pictures of her family. And when I asked about this little girl’s mom, she said that she’s not here. And I asked whether this was all okay or whether it was sad. And she looked at me, blue eyes wide with wisdom, and said: “It’s okay. I mean, I think it was really sad for her when her mom died. But she still has her dad.” And this, this simple and profound utterance in the back of a taxi on the way to school, made me smile and hug her, my girl. Truth be told, I had to work hard to hide the tears that were there, wanting to come.
All of this got me thinking of course. About life and death. About childhood and adulthood. About sweetness and sadness.
About my own love. My own loss.
If only we could retain the clarity and wisdom we had as kids. If only we could protect our kids – and ourselves – from the sad stories of others and those of our own.
Have you had occasion to talk with the children in your life about death? What did you say and how did it go?