Explaining Life to the Little One

This morning I woke up to our 3-legged cat, Freddy, attacking something in our bedroom.  Unfortunately,and it defies logic how he accomplished this, the “something” was a young songbird.

In my just-woke-up stupor, I managed to get the bird away from him and it seemed that there were no life-threatening injuries.

It turns out that the poor thing must have had severe internal injuries because, just a few minutes ago, it crossed the bridge.

I hate death, I abhor the idea that there isn’t value in every living thing on this planet, but I also know that death is a necessary part of this beautiful existence we call life. Life cannot exist without death and I want our little lady to understand the role that the end of life plays in the grand scheme of the planet.

Our first conversation involving the “circle of life” happened spontaneously on our way to her school a few months ago.  A squirrel had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, leading to his untimely death by car.  This happened within a few feet of the sidewalk we use on the way, so, of course, she wanted to know if the squirrel was ok.

I try not to lie to her unless it is absolutely necessary, which I didn’t think it was in this situation.  So I explained how death makes room for a new life by completing the circle.  She didn’t quite understand it at first, but after some creative, on-the-spot, thinking, I came up with a solution.

I explained that when the squirrel passed, his body helped plants and trees to grow bigger/stronger, then other squirrels would eat the plants and seeds from the trees, growing bigger and stronger so that they could pick the car right up, instead of getting smushed by it.

While I realize that the embellishment at the end is a bit over the top.  I think it was necessary to illustrate the point I was trying to make and also served to make the story memorable. Since then, she often talks about the circle of life when confronted with death, whether that be a worm on the sidewalk or a character from a cartoon/movie.

Freddy’s Victim

When the little bird passed, it was my knee-jerk reaction to make up a story(he went back to his mom or something) to shield her from the sadness inherent in death.  But, after I thought about it, I realized that it is important for her to experience these type of situations with someone who knows, loves, and understands her.  I want her to have me there to explain why she feels the way she does, why things have to die, etc.

So she joined me to take the baby out into our front yard and bury him/her.  She didn’t understand that the bird was actually dead(it’s eyes were still open) but once I explained that Freddy must have caused some injuries inside the bird’s body that we couldn’t see, it clicked for her.  She was upset, didn’t understand why I couldn’t fix him, and began to cry.

I understand, death is sad.  Crying about it is ok.  But, it is important for us, especially because we have 4 dogs, 4 fish, 2 cats, and a bird that will pass before she is 18, to teach her about how life and death are two sides of the same coin.

My hope is that, by exposing her to the inner workings of life, that it will better prepare her emotionally for the inevitable experiences that she will have in this arena.

What do you think?  Is it ok to shield children from “bad” things or is it better to teach them why “bad” things happen?