Saturday, August 22, 2009

Teaching kids in a natural way the reality of DEATH

There is one subject which is not easy to explain to young children. Having pets in the family, however, has helped in many ways to make my kids at their fragile stage understand this inescapable fact of life – DEATH.
The first time my two children got a pet was when JD, my eldest, was about four and Josh was about two. It was a cat they both agreed to name “Honey”. Honey had a glossy golden fur and a pair of sharp emerald eyes. She was fantasized with every moving object around her including lizards and spiders. Helpfully enough, she kept the rats away. In the morning, she would surprise us with her catch she would lay down around her, sometimes a mouse and sometimes a bird. How she would catch a bird or a rat remained a mystery to us .  She was such a wonderful smart pet and JD and Josh adored her so much. But one morning, we found  Honey lying down by the doorstep breathless.  Now, our concern was how to tell our little JD and Josh about it. But then JD who just got up was already dashing towards us. “What’s up, Mom?”, she asked. “Oh, I’m so sorry, darling, but dad found out that Honey had eaten a cockroach sprayed with repellent”, I regretfully explained. JD embraced her Honey for the last time and sobbed like she lost a best friend. We assured her that she and Josh would get a new one but she insisted that she wanted Honey alone.“No more  Honey to kill bad mice!” Josh sadly expressed.

That was their first encounter with death. Then followed by another. And then another and more.  

The next one was with a parrot they named Paulie. It was given by a good friend as a present JD and Josh were hoping that someday, they would hear Paulie talk like the one they loved to tease at our favorite restaurant. It wasn’t long, however, when they themselves found Paulie hanging from its pole. Indeed, the death of Honey prepared them to accept this reality of life. They didn’t ask too many questions again although we felt how sorry they were for Paulie.
Then, again we were given a colorful Indian python, we named it Ems. It was the size of JD’s arm. Our two kids would take Ems inside our house to play with it. If we had some friends or guests visiting at home, they would show Ems with great joy and pride. Their joy and pride, however,  were curtailed when one day, Ems was changing its skin and found a way out from its cage. One day, Daddy Nole found it on the road cut into two. The pastor at the church next to our house explained to him that he saw it curled around in one of the pots at the church so with his fear, he hacked it immediately. When JD and Josh learned about Ems’ horrible death, they were angered but soon they realized that it would always find a way to escape, anyway. So whoever would find it would really kill it.

We did not stop acquiring pets despite what had happened.  We had all sorts of pets at home - bantam chickens of various attractive colors, aquarium fish, a lovely Japanese spitz given again as a gift Josh named Balto and later a brown flat turtle he called Bernie. It’s a pet he asked his dad to buy during his and his sister’s summer vacation in Bangkok. His Ate JD, complaining that Bernie stank, shampooed it thoroughly. An hour later,  it was dead. Josh who then got a high fever that night was hallucinating and crying for his turtle. Dad who was deeply touched went out to look for a shop that sells turtles. Luckily, he found a green Japanese turtle which Josh had really wished for. His hallucination stopped when we awoke him to see the new turtle he called Bernie (again). Another summer came when JD and Josh had to spend again another vacation with us. It’s one of the hottest summers in Thailand. From a long trip upcountry one weekend, we got back only to find out that Bernie was already dead. Disappointed Josh had to console himself that anyway he still got the Flowerhorn in the aquarium. After two weeks, however, perhaps for too much heat, he also found the Flowerhorn turning upside down, dead. 

Then, I got a message from my mom just last month telling me that Balto, our Japanese Spitz was already dead. It was the dog that Josh and JD cried for when we left him in GenSan to Pangasinan three years ago.  He was such a darling to all of us. When Daddy Nole told Josh about Balto’s death a week ago, he retorted defensively: So what if Balto is dead? It would pain me, anyway, if I see him again not recognizing me!”  I’m so thankful he has finally come into terms with Balto’s death. Now that there’s no more pet left in us, Josh now 8 is again asking for lovebirds. But he’s very much aware now that sooner or later, they will also die. 

Last year, JD and Josh’s paternal grandma passed away. Saddened by her death, they realized later that life is really like that. Just like animals such as their beloved pets die, it’s a painful truth their young minds should comprehend and accept that even those who are dearest to them - mom, dad, siblings or anyone else close to them - will soon pass away as no one can escape this fate called death. They are assured, however, that for human beings like us, we have the blessed hope of a life after death.

(Written 7 August 2007)


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