Life, death and lies

28 May

Big Milk “Are you sad because you didn’t get to see grandma when she died?”

Me “No, I was with her when she died darling, and it was very peaceful”. 

Big Milk  “What happens when someone gets died?”

Me “They get very sleepy and quiet and eventually they take their last breath and  fall asleep and don’t wake up. ”

Big Milk ” And then their body disappears and they go to heaven?”

Me. “Umm, no their body doesn’t disappear exactly.”

Big Milk “Well where does it go then? Does your body fall through the bed and then melt into the carpet?”

Me “No, umm, well yes it does kind of disappear, like eventually.  (not even a lie my friends- bodies decompose and that’s kinda like disappearing right?)

Big Milk  “So you waited for a bit and then Grandma slowly disappeared and then the bed was empty. Was there any smoke?”

Me  “Well, hmmm, not really like that darling,  I left before anything happened to her body. Her spirit had gone to heaven  and she wasn’t really there anymore, plus I’d already said goodbye”.

Big Milk  “What’s a spirit mummy?  Did grandma turn all white like a Scooby ghost?”

Me  “Ok, ahem, lights off baby. We’ll talk about this more tomorrow”

This explaining death thing isn’t easy for an agnostic.  You swear you’re not going to lie, gloss over things with euphemisms or “easy lies” because they’re handy and comforting. You’re supposed to “tell them how it is”, not hide the true nature of nature. I had my own smug, self-assured commentary down –  “Some people believe X, others Y, this is what I believe, you must decide for yourself”.   But the truth is, it’s never that easy.  The heaven lie came out early.  I was tired and it’s just such a nice idea, isn’t it?  Fluffy clouds, everyone decked out in persil whites, angels with 24 carat halos and harps that play themselves   You can’t quite bring yourself to tell them the truth – it’s a bit too, well, real.  In any case, you’re still struggling with it all yourself, and you don’t want to land the burden of accepting mortality on them just yet.

So it seems I’ll be trotting out some fanciful niceties for some time to come; in any case, my hole is already half way dug. But i reckon, his grandma’s just died, if he needs a bit of heaven in his life than let him have it.  I could do with a few candy floss clouds myself.

21 Responses to “Life, death and lies”

  1. bsouth May 28, 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    It’s a terrible conversation to have to have when they’re so young. And yet, it’s just a terrible conversation to have anyway, no matter how old they are.

    I don’t think candy floss clouds and 24 carat halos are such a terrible thing. It’s nice to believe that the ones you love have gone on to something much nicer. You handled it beautifully.

    • marketingtomilk May 29, 2011 at 6:07 am #

      True, but for my kids at least this world is still pretty awesome, so why would anyone want to leave? x

      • bsouth May 29, 2011 at 8:59 am #

        I think that given the choice lots of people would want to stay, but we aren’t given that choice. That’s the bit I find hard to explain, even with my beliefs.

  2. rachel frowd May 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm #

    Bizzarely that is exactly how Ella tried to deal with it. She kept saying ‘Did Grandma fall through the bed;’? What can you say? As you said, I’m struggling to understand it myself. I wish I had a faith to believe in, it would be so comforting. But the truth is, watching Mummy die has just made me realise even more that there’s just nothing afterwards, which is just so shocking

    • marketingtomilk May 29, 2011 at 6:11 am #

      YOu know I’ve grappled with this all for a while. Fear and my mortality. I reckon everyone goes through it at some stage in their life, and i suppose they either choose to soften it with a spiritual belief, or accept it at face value. Learning to accept the harsh reality has its benefits – of focussing the mind and living every moment.


  3. Vegemitevix May 28, 2011 at 7:05 pm #

    So difficult. Feel for you Milk, but think you did well in coping with the little uns questions. xx

  4. Maija @ Maija's Mommy Moments May 28, 2011 at 7:10 pm #

    Personally I wish my kids would believe in the niceties as long as possible. I know conversations like that are tough – good job Mama!

  5. kelloggsville May 28, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

    I think those difficulties of desperately wanting to be able to explain things about life in a ‘nice’ way are the roots of religious foundation. The belief system in what seems so improbable is a comforting improbable. Children struggle to make sense of it all and the imagery of being taken to heaven is ease for them to take on board. Also trying to explain in a gentle way about burial and cremation would also help demistify it a bit. It’s a time when the death of a pet can be a remarkable blessing as it can help them to understand. As mum you know where they are coming from and understand them, you will manage it well, as it sounds like you have done so far.

    • marketingtomilk May 29, 2011 at 6:14 am #

      Thanks K, the story of cremation felt a bit strong for the moment. I’m sure the right time will come for all that.

  6. Rosie Scribble May 28, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

    I think you handled it perfectly. Can’t have been easy at all for either of you. My beliefs are the same as yours but I’ve found myself explaining the death of a family friend to my daughter by talking about heaven. I hadn’t planned to but like you, it seemed the easier and kindest thing to do. The harsh realities of life and death can wait until they are older and when they are not feeling so fragile. xx

  7. Nicola May 28, 2011 at 10:42 pm #

    Have just read a back log of posts. I am so, so sorry. I can’t even imagine. I really can’t. And you capture it all so perfectly. With regards to death and what to tell children, I still struggle. When my first son died there was a void. Since then I think my belief system has changed – but it is still something that I find difficult to talk to my boys about, so I do simplify it for them, with varying degrees of success. But I think what you are conveying in your post is what I truly believe – that the love you have for your mum and the love she has for you is eternal. There are parts of her that will live on within you always. Your love for her will always be very much alive.

    I only have scant memories of my dad’s mum but both he and my mum kept her memory alive – almost without intention – because there was always a funny story about her that was being told, or I was always overhearing ‘Oh that’s just like Margaret, do you remember…?’ I was told once that I was just like her and it is a compliment I have revered ever since, because my impression is that she was an incredibly vivacious, loving woman with a heart of gold that everyone adored. Without even knowing her properly she is like a mentor to me – and your children might end up feeling the same about your mum, even tho their own personal memories might be a little hazy.

    Anyway, just sending love. x

    • marketingtomilk May 29, 2011 at 6:15 am #

      What a lovely, beautifully articulated comment. Thank you for taking the time, I really appreciate it. x

  8. Paula May 29, 2011 at 1:05 am #

    Heaven’s like a holding area for a bigger truth that they don’t need right now, there’s nothing wrong with that. Much love HP xx

    • marketingtomilk May 29, 2011 at 6:15 am #

      “Heaven’s like a holding area”. I like that. Thanks P

  9. TheMadHouse May 29, 2011 at 8:08 am #

    You say what you feel you need too. Personally we avoided the heaven thing, but that is due to it offering me no comfort at all. I am very black and white about it all with them. They know that her heart stopped and she died. They also know that she is in the ground. Mini still asks sometimes and I have found that No Matter What by Debbie Gliori is just the perfect book, “Small look at the stars – how they shine and glow, but some of those stars died a long time ago.

    Still they shine in the evening skies, Love, like starlight never dies”

  10. Chris Mosler May 29, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    I’m with Paula…brilliantly put. You know I have grappled with this conversation several times but I haven’t had to do it in the circumstances you have. I think you handled it brilliantly. They take what they need from what you say. xxx

  11. Mrs Skinner May 29, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    Kids are just brilliant aren’t they? They bring us to places we don’t choose, to conversations we’d rather not have & we cope. So they really help!

    Another little step successfully taken hun!

  12. Lady-like Pervert May 30, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    Arent’ children just so literal? I love it. You handled it like a pro Momma!

  13. SAHMlovingit May 30, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    I honestly think you handled it all brilliantly and put it much better than I ever could x

  14. Vicki Ramsay June 1, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    I think you handled it brilliantly. It’s certainly the sort of question any parent who isn’t religious is going to dread. We don’t want to lie but we don’t want to hit them with the reality. Especially, as you say, you’re busy trying to get your head around the whole thing yourself.

    The holding area theory is perfect. If they believe in Santa Claus & the Tooth Fairy, when why not let the believe in heaven until they’re older too.


  15. Simone June 4, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    Awww Lovely Milk, this post made me so sad for you 😦
    I had to help my eldest son with this when his grandad died (my father-in-law); he was five, old enough to really FEEL the loss, whereas his little sister seemed to somehow skip past it.
    I know that you know that I look at things from that “other” way of being. I DO believe there’s more to life. Part of what tells me that is the emptiness; what is left behind is every physical scrap of the person, but the REAL them has gone. That person, that amazing LIFE can’t just flicker and go out.
    Something deep inside me tells me that.
    I don’ think its a case of Sanat Claus or the tooth fairy; I’ve been around too long for that.
    Milk, I’ll keep holding up the “light” here for you; let my belief in Heaven’s reality help you not feel like you’ve just told your kid a fiction. Cos I don’t think it is.
    You know that aye?? And we’re freinds?
    And I guess the difference between an agnostic and an atheist is that an Athist says NO, but an agnostic says “I don’t KNOW”.
    So you don’t know.
    Thats OK.
    You can borrow some of my “belief” for as long as you need it.
    Hugs lovely girl

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