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Questions and Answers about death
1 (a madar)
Salam Dostan,
Lately my 4 year old daughter is asking a lot of questions about death. Why people should die ? Do only bad people die ? what should we do that good people never die ? Why people go to sky when they die ? These are some of her questions, which made me fell speechless when faced with the last one. While I want to be very honest with her and not to make a very big deal of death but I think she feels the sadness on my answers. Right now she is very afraid of losing a loved one . she thinks only old people die, and she wants to make sure that all the people she loves are not old. She also thinks bad people die sooner than good people (thanks to Snow White tape - What a wrong idea ) and I don't know what should my reaction be.
I thought maybe some of you would have some ideas for me.
2 (a madar)
My children have been asking questions about death, too. it is not only their age, but also we lost a very young beloved one in our family. She died in a car crash shortly after her wedding. it was a sad shock to everybody, including chidlren.
My daughter kept telling me that she did not want to get married for a while. after a while I asked her why, she replied that she did not want to die. she already associated wedding with death. I did some explaining to her, but also took a couple of my own wedding pictures to hang on her wall, and I think it helped. my wedding picutres are still on their wall, and no complain yet.
I did take them to the funeral, and they saw the greif in the family and still talk about it. they talked about it at school, too, which I am glad they did and shared not only their own feelings, but also our feelings with their teachers and classmates. teachers were good about it. but then obviousely my chidren were sad for a while, and it impacted their behavior and attitude for months. some teachers recommended that I should see a child psychologist, etc. being an Iranian, I just considered it an American thing and did not do it. because in my view, it would have just given the issue of death a weight in a wrong dimension.
another thing is that when I take them to the cemetery, I ask them not to step on any grave stones, and have respect for the dead (spirituality?). my daughter liked the Death Day (Mexican?) that they observed at school and talked about it at home. I heard that there is a book about it, too.
one thing I do not like about Holloween is that it makes fun of the dead, and considers them all vicious and bad things that come to reveng the alive. in Iran, I remember people often dreamt of the dead who gave them advice, hope, etc. the dead were always respected and their ghosts were not mean and did not hunt anybody. I try to teach my children respect for the memory of the dead.
they still ask questions, make stories, and talk about death. but fortunately, the energy of life and happiness is so strong in children that they cannot remain sad for a long time, and soon forget about it and start playing and use the death terms (coffin,...) in their jokes, too.
3 (a madar)
Dear (madar # 1): I also have a 4 year old daughter who went through the same phase of wondering and trying to understand the concept of death. She was worried and sad about losing a loved one also. If it makes you feel better, I will tell you that it lasted about three months and then she felt like she knew all about it and had reconciled the issue in her own mind.
My daughter became familiar with "death and dying" when she saw dead skeleton of dead animals during a horse back riding experience in a ranch in Argentina. Her uncle who is a rancher simply explained the truth to her that some cows dye during the winter. They were too skinny when winter started because they did not eat enough during the summer. I was very concerned about all of this new information and how it would effect her. At first she seemed concerned about "eating" so she actually became more interested in trying a variety of food. I asked my daughters cousins how they felt when they were little and had to deal with the idea of the ranch animals or pets and even their favorite horse dying. They all said that their father had simply explained the truth to them without too many complicated details and that they felt sad but they got used to the idea after a while.
Shortly after this introduction, my uncle passed away and I went to his funeral. My daughter accompanied me and she saw the family being sad and crying. This was much more difficult because she saw that my little cousins had lost their father. She like your daughter started to worrying about losing her father. She even went to the extent of saying that she did not want to be a "SI..." (my last name) because all the "SI..." were dying and that her dad and I weren't "SI..." either, because she does not want us to die!! This reasoning seemed to comfort her and I did not try to convince her otherwise as she had found some kind of an assurance in this kind of reasoning. My daughter also thought that old people die but I have been able to convince her that old does not mean her grand parents. Since she does not have a good concept of what old is, she is satisfied that no one she knows is old!! I have also told my daughter that when people die they go to heaven up in the sky. when she asked me why up there, the only answer I could come up with was that they went to be with god. That opened another series of questions about god and who is god. For about three months, every once in a while she would ask me the same questions and I had to reassure her with lots of hugs and kisses that neither one of her parents were going to leave her. I often told her that death was not horrible even though we would miss the person who left us! I hope this helps.
I agree with madar #2, taking children to cemetery does help. In my daughters experience, my uncles grave seemed very beautiful to her. He died in Germany and there the custom was to cover the grave with all the flowers that had been sent there so the grave to my daughter appeared like a small hill of flowers. I had not told her that he was in the coffin but later on I heard her explaining to her father that "momy's uncle was in a wooden box" . she sounded like an expert when she told her father all about how the whole ceremony went . I was very surprised.
I also let her see me cry and when she gave me kisses and hugs , I told her that it made me feel better and that seemed to make her feel better too. Like madar #2, I told her not to walk on graves and to be respectful, she put candles on the grave and rearranged the flowers in her own way and said that was how she was respecting the grave! It is a tough phase but very natural and like madar #2 says the energy of life overcomes all their worries.
Please send your replies and/or opinions regarding this subject to madar-pedar@surya.eecs.berkeley.edu.

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