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Let’s explore Death Positivity
When Q was 2 years old, my mom’s dog was ancient, and her health was declining.
We knew one day soon, he’d visit Maimo’s house and find his friend Jada was no longer there.
To prepare him for Jada’s passing, I searched through every book on death made for toddlers. They were all pretty vanilla, and not…great. Also – what’s the rush to discuss death? Who wants to frighten a 2-year-old? Who wants to rip that innocence away?
I didn’t know how to handle the logical consequences of discussions on death. Once he knew our furrier family members could be gone forever (we’re atheists), he’d ask the inevitable – Will mommy and daddy die? Will I die?
Apparently book makers feel the same way. I plowed through flowery books with confusing, abstract language (sooo many rainbows). I started to get frustrated. Grow some courage, or hush!
To understand, to validate the experiences and feelings our have about death, to find solace, toddlers and preschoolers need concrete, real-life stories that mirror their own. They need clear language.
‘DEAD,’ not ‘passed on.’ Not ‘no longer with us,’ not ‘far, far away,’ not ‘special sleep.’Yikes, how terrifying to equate death with sleep. I’d be afraid of bedtime forever if my parents told me the two were related.
So I was delighted to find ‘Goodbye Mousie’ – and I’m not using ‘elated’ lightly.
It’s hard to find a story about something so sad that kids still LOVE to read. I also love that it was one of the few books that didn’t end with an immediate replacement of a dead pet with a rebound pet – as if someone we love can be so easily replaced!
We think of death as an obligatory topic to discuss with our kids – like sexual assault, or tooth-brushing. It’s the kind of lesson we don’t look forward to, but we DO look forward to finishing.
Instead, ‘Goodbye Mousie’ is a good story in itself. Both Q and R2 enjoyed reading it in the 2.5 to 3 range, for months at a time. It brings them comfort and helps them see there can be closure to the confusing, awful feelings they have in grief. Reading this story every night gave the boys chances to ask questions about what death really is. They theorized why the little boy found comfort in placing a carrot and grapes in Mousie’s burial box, even though Mousie wouldn’t be eating them.
Now that R2 is 3, even though we don’t have an expected loss coming up, I’m grateful to have and know about this book to prepare him for the inevitable. He loves this book, it gives him all the feels, and helps him process his questions – even the scary ones, like what happens when me and his dad die, what happens when he dies – in a comforting way.
How we keep exploring death positivity
Autumn is when we let things die. This is a good time to slow down, resist the capitalist drive to KEEP GOING AS FAST AS YOU CAN, and stop exhausting ourselves running away from scary things. Like death, loss, and all our fears of ‘what if…’
You can do this. You are tough, and smart, and you can do hard things.
Set aside an entire season to discuss our deepest fears, our worries about rejection and disaster, and to talk openly and honestly about death with our families. This practice gives kids space to process the feelings and concerns they might not feel comfortable bringing up when we’re busy running errands, completing chores, or go-go-going.
- What if the things, relationships, or the people we love the most go away? How could we be still be okay?
- What is death positivity? What is deathmisia?
- How does our family view death? What death traditions does our family practice? Why?
- How do we take things that ‘last forever’ for granted? How is the idea that something could last forever a myth?
- When is it safe to talk about death? How can we build in times of the day or week to talk about fears we haven’t acknowledged or found words for?
- What does it mean when something is irreversible?
- When is permanence or change comforting, and when is it scary?
- Why do American children’s stories avoid ending stories with death, tragedy, and irreversible loss – particularly the death of young, white, abled people?
Additional resources to dig deeper into this topic:
- Talking About Death With Young Kids: A Beginner’s Guide
- Kids Stories Exploring Death Positivity
- Kids Stories On Transitions & Accepting Change
- Older Lives Are Worth Living: Fighting Ageism & Deathmisia In Children’s Books
- Stories supporting kids through the death of a pet
- Supporting kids through the death of a friend
- Supporting kids through the death of a grandparent
- Kids Stories About Terminal Illness
- Día De Los Muertos Stories
- Children’s Books for Qingming & more Qingming resources in our April Resource Roundup
- Luminary Brain Trust members: #FamilyMovieNight: Soul