Death lurks all around fathers all the same, from the content we watch with the kids (“Bambi,” anyone?) to the personal losses we suffer along the way. My wife lost her beloved brother in 2011, and two Christmas ago I said goodbye to my Dad. I’m still learning to process the loss of my father, clinging to the warm memories while trying to let his final, frail state fade from my mind.
My oldest son Elijah can’t help but ask questions about his late uncle and grandfather, who we called Pop-Pop. My wife stepped forward on the issue, telling my son they now live “in the rainbows.” Elijah isn’t satisfied with that answer, and whenever the subject comes up he always has more new questions: “Can you sleep in the rainbows? Talk there? Where is it?”
We tell him we don’t know, or we think so, or we’ll all find out in a long, long time. It feels right to keep the subject vague, to let his imagination fill in the blanks in a way that works best for his evolving mind.
There’s also the matter of religion, but while my son enjoys some faith-based books at bed time it doesn’t seem appropriate to explore spirituality with a boy who just turned four.
I’ve always had a Woody Allen-style obsession with death, but it’s gotten much worse since Elijah started asking questions about it. When he brings the subject up I quietly panic and try to distract him. He can be as stubborn as we are, though, and rarely lets us divert the discussion until he’s good and ready to say something else.
We should have researched the subject of death before embracing the rainbow connection. It just … happened, and for now it feels like the proper way to treat the subject.
What about my fellow fathers? How have you addressed the issue of death with your children?