Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The One Where We Talked About Death...

Last Wednesday we returned home from picking the kids up from Liverpool to a very sad discovery.  Our rabbit, George had died.  We're not entirely sure how this happened (I personally think his hutch-mate Peppa had been bullying him away from the food!) but it was nonetheless a very sad experience.

I'll admit, I was slightly undone, it being midnight and having just spent the last 5 hours in the car...I did shed a tear or two.  He was only 9 months old after all.  Plus there was the awkward issue of, what do you do with a dead rabbit at midnight?  I was not at all impressed with my Other Half's 'circle of life' suggestion that we leave him out for the three local foxes either!

My sister and George...it's the only photo I promise!

Of course, once we had sympathetically removed George from the hutch the bigger question became, what on earth were we going to tell Meg?

I had no idea whether she had any grasp or understanding of death and what it means.  I think once before we had heard her say during a game "now you're dead" but this seemed out of character and just something she was repeating. 

So, I figured we had three options:

1. Tell her bluntly that George had died and wouldn't be coming back.
2. Explain that George was poorly and couldn't get better so had gone to Rabbit heaven.
3. Say nothing and wait until she noticed he wasn't there and make out that he escaped and ran away.

I pondered over which one was kindest for the majority of the night before deciding on the second option as the most toddler-friendly.

I sat her down, made sure she was well watered and fed so her attention wouldn't wander and started to explain in the gentlest way I could that George had been poorly and unfortunately Mummy and Daddy weren't able to make him better.  Her first response was "well Jesus could make him better" (I decided to sidestep this point as much as I believe in miracles I'm not entirely sure whether I believe in miracles for rabbits and besides, it was a little late for that!) "Not this time sweetheart" said I, "unfortunately George has already died" and so we reached the heart of the matter.

She had absolutely no concept of what 'died' meant.  Was he coming back in a little while?  Could we go and see him?  Why couldn't we take him to the doctors?  Why did he have to die?

Round and round in circles all day she fired these questions at me and to be honest, I was completely adrift.  How on earth do you explain death to a toddler?  She had no understanding whatsoever that we are all living creatures and that sometimes people (and animals) die...this is a conversation I hadn't expected to have for a very very long time.  It broke my heart a little bit to think "well, thank goodness it's just an animal and not a person" as I think that would have completely destroyed me.

I attempted to cover as many bases as I could with her, and answer her questions as honestly as possible despite the fact that she didn't really get it.  Is it a topic we should cover up in order to protect our children?  I don't know...my child is only 3...should we have said nothing?  I don't know whether I think being honest was the best policy in this case.  I almost feel as though it's opened up a bigger can of worms than if we'd just told her that George had escaped and run away.

Even now, several days after the incident I'm still unsure whether we've done the right thing.  As my Other Half pointed out, George was just a rabbit, we didn't need to explore such a serious issue at such a young age.  But, it's done now isn't it.  We'll just have to deal with any further questions as best we can I guess!   
     

14 comments:

  1. I think you did the right thing, although not a nice topic, death is 'just one of those things' and there is no point shying away from it.
    My niece was around 3yrs when she first found out about death, her grandfather had died and she wanted to know where he was, we felt the best thing was just to be honest.
    And a rabbit to a child is never 'just a rabbit', pets can be like a member of the family and their loss just as important.
    My niece was so distraught after her Guinea pig was killed by foxes, not pretty and definitely not a topic I want to revisit with a child.

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    1. Thank you for commenting. I want to think we did the right thing, I'd hate to feel like we'd covered it up to protect her. She was upset but you're right, at least we can say we were honest with her.

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  2. i think you did the right thing. A`rabbit is never just a rabbit its part of the family. Honesty is always best leyla - thisdayilove

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    1. I agree, we loved George and it would have felt wrong to pretend he'd just disappeared! Thank you for commenting :)

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  3. What a nightmare! I think you did the right thing. X

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    1. It was a bit out of the blue to be honest! Thank you for commenting x

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  4. Absolutely you did the right thing. Best get them used to the idea while they are young enough to absorb it without trauma. When I blogged about this one commenter said she'd taken a group of 8yo kids to a churchyard and one had asked why there were stones with flowers on and was traumatised when she explained. Noone had told him about death and it came as a terrible shock to a mind that thought it had begun to make sense of the world. You wait, though, till they start asking about human biology!

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    1. Gosh I can't imagine how that must have felt, imagine being 8 years old and no one having explained it. I feel like we've made the right choice now. Thank you for commenting x

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  5. What a gorgeous bunny rabbit, so sad he died :( I think you definitely did the right thing by telling your daughter. All children will inevitably experience deathat some point and introducing them to it through the death of a pet is definitely the best way

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    1. I know, he was so sweet natured too, just loved a good cuddle :(

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  6. I think you did the right thing and I also think that having pets is such an important part of a child's life. Hugs for you all xxx

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    1. Thanks Susanne, it was an inevitable conversation when you've got a house full of pets but I hadn't expected it to come quite so soon!

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  7. I think you were right to tell the truth, like others have said it's best it's something they grow up acceoting as part of life instead of being shocked with later.
    You could look at some children's books about death with her - when I worked in schools we often read 'goodbye mog' when a child lost a pet.
    Sorry about your bunny :( xx

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    1. Thank you hun, good idea about the books, I'll keep my eyes peeled for one xx

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