Winging it with angels
How-to Dad Jordan Watson explains death to his kids
We’re not religious, so there’s no book for me to refer to when talking about death. I had to wing it.
Death. Even as adults we all have a different view or belief on what death is and what it means to us.
It can get quite heated, political even when views collide – it’s not an easy subject for us big kids. So how do I explain it to my little kids?
The whanau and I have been down in Granity for the week, a small coastal town north of Westport. We’ve been down in this bloody marvellous part of the country to send off a bloody awesome bloke.
I figured my kids already had a decent idea of what death was. My eldest two, Mila and Alba, are five and three – surely they get it.
One stands on an ant and the other shrieks ‘‘Oh no, it’s dead!’’
They go fishing with me, see me catch and then fillet a snapper, and Alba asks ‘‘Can it blink now?’’ – where miss five jumps in and casually says ‘‘Na, it’s dead’’.
They even eat the ducks I bring home each year after a successful hunting trip. They must understand, right? Well... The missus and I decided I would be the one to explain to them what happens when someone dies.
I picked them up from school and daycare and I had butterflies. I was honestly really nervous about one, trying to figure out how to explain it; and, two, how they would take it.
Explaining the birds and the bees would have been easier. ‘‘Mum and Dad did a special dance and then you grew in mum’s belly like a flower, and then one day
you fell out of mums belly as a baby’’. Easy. Death – not so much. We’re not religious, so there’s no book for me to refer to. I had to wing it.
I gave it my best, told them how serious this was, how that person will be asleep for a long time, how there will be lots of sad people at the funeral, how they get buried, and how they will always be in your memories but you will not see them again.
They both listened intently. I think it worked, I think they understood.
Mila even started to cry. What an amazing family moment. Turns out she had just poked herself in the eye.
A few days later we were at the funeral. Funerals are never great, especially with an unpredictable five-year-old, three-year-old and baby.
To my surprise, they stayed quiet. A few cute ‘‘oohs and ahhs’’ from the baby but that was it. I think seeing the process actually happen was helping my JFK-esque speech sink in.
At the burial they sprinkled some dirt onto the coffin – and it hit home. I could see the dots connecting inside their curious, curly mopcovered heads.
Mila’s look of ‘‘Why is there a big hole?’’ showed a slither of realisation. Alba momentarily stopped sprinkling dirt and cuddled my leg. I’d clearly guided my little ones successfully through the hardships of death.
Then, while skipping back to the car, Alba looked up at me and said ‘‘So, we’ll see him tomorrow?’’
OK, I tried.
R.I.P Tommy boy.