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Laying the Groundwork

This morning on the way to school my nearly 4-year-old and I had our first conversation that flirted with the idea of death.

I have shared before on the blog that I have been thinking for a while now about how to address the idea of death with my children. His close relationship with his ailing great-grandparents will make this something he will face sooner, rather than later. And he is reaching an age where he asks questions about everything, so it is only a matter of time until he wants to know what I do at the Preserve.

While this information is not something I want to push on him, when he asks about it I would like to have a truthful, age-appropriate answer for him. But I hadn’t figured out the right way to approach it for us, until his observant eyes and inquisitive mind presented it to me this morning from the backseat during our commute:

“Mommy, why did those trees fall over?”

“Hmm, I don’t know sweetie. There are lots of different reasons that trees might fall down. They might have been blown down by a strong wind. They might have had bugs that ate them up on the inside, and made them sick and weak.”

“Like germs?” (We recently had the flu and he has become much more aware of germs.)

“Yes, sweetie. Like very bad germs for trees. A person might have also come along and cut the tree down. And sometimes, when a tree has gotten very old and lived a long life, it will die and fall down. Then it will break into little pieces and feed other things growing in the forest.”

After a pause – “I don’t like that. I like trees.”

“I know sweetie. But that is the way that things work. The trees need to die so that other things can live.”

After a brief, pensive moment our conversation turned to his favorite superheroes. But I know that the groundwork has been laid.

Next time we take our walk in the woods, I’ll be sure to point out the beauty of mosses growing on a fallen log or mushrooms growing on decaying branches. We will talk about how the hawks we see circling above are hunting smaller creatures to survive. I will help him understand the circle of life, and that we are a part of it. When the time comes for him to lose someone that he loves, I hope he will be able to understand that we are like everything else in the world. We all die, but we all live on in other ways – be it in other living things or in memories and love left behind.

It seems absurd now that I ever felt at a loss for how to introduce a concept that is visible in everything around us. The bittersweet beauty inherent in life is that our moment is fleeting.