When my father-in-law was diagnosed with interminable cancer, I spoke to several child psychologists and read various books on how to approach the subject of death with my daughter.
Simply put, it's virtually impossible for an infant or toddler to fully comprehend a human's death. Up until the age of seven, many children believe that death is a reversible condition.
The experts advise you to never say that a loved one's cause of death was sickness or old age. The reasons for this are fairly straightforward. If you ever get sick or a loved one gets old, your child will be petrified with fear that death is impending.
We explained to the Peanut that death means one's body stops working. Grandpa can no longer eat, sleep, walk, read books to her, or go fishing. Naturally, this brings up various questions like "where did Grandpa go? or "what happened to his body?" These are issues that may involve your faith or sense of spirituality and it's ok to have those conversations with your child.
As most of you know, my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer in April. From that moment on, we flew from New York to Texas on a weekly basis. Each weekend, we rented a small fishing boat so we could not only indulge his passion but also so we could create as many wonderful memories as possible together.
Ironically, we caught very few fish this summer.
Since he passed away two weeks ago, my wife and brother-in-law have been staying with their mother to help her grieve. Every night at 7:00 pm, the three of them hike over to a local lake and silently fish for a little bit. It's partly just to get out of the house but it's partly as a way of remembering dad.
This weekend, the Peanut and I joined them for the first time. Although the lake is filled with striped bass and catfish, we were just fooling around near the shore. I bought Peanut a cheap little toy Dora fishing rod at Wal-Mart and my brother-in-law rigged it up so it could actually cast.
As we sat there quietly in the darkness, the Peanut suddenly yelled "I see the fishies moving." As we ran over to her, we yelled at her to reel in her line. Sure enough, at the end of the hook, was the Peanut's very first fish. She was so excited I was sure that she was going to piss all over herself.
Now, when it comes to bugs or insects, we have a very pacifist approach to all God's creatures. If we catch a fly in the house, we'll release it outside. If we see a spider, we'll escort it into the woods. Sure, we'll beat the shit out of another toddler but, when it comes to animals, we firmly believe in the sanctity of life.
However, we'd never had the fish discussion with the Peanut before. She loves fish so she knows people eat it all the time. However, we also tend to be catch-and-release fishermen. So, as we all gently crouched around her, we asked her what she wanted to do with her fish.
She thought about it very carefully before she said that she wanted to take it back to Grandpa's house and put it in his little pond. That way, whenever she came to visit Texas, she could look at her fish and remember all the fun times that she had while fishing with Grandpa. She then looked up at us with her big bold eyes and said, "Do you think that would be a good idea, guys?"
Yeah, kiddo. We think that would be a great idea.