Teaching children about death would help lift the taboo
My five-year-old son announced through a bite of Weet-Bix that he intended to turn into a lizard when he died. Over 100 questions followed regarding life, death and what happens next. Insisting that I download a bug-spotting app, he scoured our garden collecting images of aggressive bull ants and sad-looking bees with missing stingers. “Can he kill you?”, “How long does he live?” “Where does he go when he dies?”
If you’re like me, you spend hours skirting the line between minimizing and overindulging in these existential meanderings, only to then lie awake at night wondering if you were wrong.
Still obsessively, I scoured the library for age-appropriate literature to aid our conversations, but books were scarce. So I wrote one. Custom-made to fit the Space Phase, he was the main character traveling from a Big Bang birth to the spectacular return to his “star”.
It was successful and useful for a while but didn’t last. With each growth spurt came new thoughts, each more articulate and complex than the last. Mentally fatigued, I implemented a 6 p.m. cutoff, no “d″ conversation after dinner.
This is especially true in the West; we don’t like to talk about death. Yet for the past two years we have hardly spoken of anything else. This is a generation exposed to pandemic and war before losing a first tooth and since educating our children about safety, consent and conception is a given, why isn’t Death Ed at the agenda?
Palliative care physician and bestselling author of With the End in Mind – How to Live Well and Die Well, Dr Kathryn Mannix reassures: “In encountering death thousands of times, I have come to the conclusion that there is generally little to fear and much to prepare for”.
It seems then that death like birth and sex can be messy and traumatic, but more often peaceful and transformative.
So why taboo? Maybe we just don’t know where to start. I saw two corpses in my life and both times I was shocked. My grandmother still warm to the touch and my stepfather sparkling in her embalming like a glittering disco ball. In comparison, my son appeared totally nonchalant.