In preparation for my son's first day of Kindergarten today, I attended an interview with his teacher yesterday. It mostly entailed questions of, "Can he tie his shoes?", "Does he feel shy in new situations?" and "Can he wipe his own bottom?"
At the end of our little meeting, his teacher asked about his special interests. I listed off his favourite play things (Lego, cars, his bike), the things he likes to do with his friends (swim, play hide-n-seek, jump on a trampoline) and his favoured topics of conversation (monster trucks, chickens and death).
His teacher stared at me for a moment after the latter item. "Oh...," she replied, "What does he say when he talks about death?"
"He often ponders over what it feels like or what you see when you die. Sometimes he wonders when he or I will die," I told her in a tone that suggested this was common-place and not really worth a huge amount of detail.
She listened with a faint look of concern on her face. This look turned soft as she asked, "Do you think he would benefit from speaking to our school counsellor?"
I suppose with the fact that this, death, is such a common topic in our house it hadn't occurred to me that this type of conversation might be cause for concern at his school. I thought for a moment about her suggestion. An avalanche of thoughts tumbled around in my brain, "Is it bad that he talks about death? But I want him to feel comfortable talking about his concerns! Are other parents going to be upset when their child quotes my son's occasional morbid thinking? I can't guarantee that he will even say anything to other children. Are his questions abnormal? This IS normal to him!"
All night I thought about this conversation. It struck me as odd how as parents we are instructed to talk to our children about their bodies and how they work. We are expected to teach them how to be healthy and strong. We even teach "sex ed" to ensure that our children are aware of all that our bodies are capable of in a reproductive sense.
But we do not talk to them about the end of our body's life. We do not talk about the imminent eventuality of our body either wearing out or "breaking" prematurely. Although it will happen to each and every one of us, we treat death as a possibility. Not an unavoidable inevitability.
I don't think dodging the subject or treating death as a four letter word is the appropriate way to help our children, or ourselves, develop a healthy view of death. It's unfortunate for them that sex is more accepted as a topic when it is not even a guaranteed act for every human on this planet. But death, well, it will happen to each and everyone of us. I don't want to shy away. I hope to let them know that it's okay to talk about it. It's fine to wonder, to question and even to worry about what and how it happens.
So I've decided that unless my son develops a habit of hiding books about death under his mattress or giggling about it with his friends in whispered tones, I am perfectly happy discussing it with him and I do not think that he requires a counsellor to tell him what to believe or when is an appropriate time to talk about the "d" word. He is sorting that out himself....and he is talking to me about it as he goes.