He comes home chattering about bones. I’m only half listening, my mind is on other things. “What, honey?” I ask.
“We die and then we’re all bones,” he says.
“What?” I say again, my eyes wide. “Where on earth did you hear that? Did someone at school say that?”
“A- told me.” I know A- to be a precocious little girl and I’m not surprised that it was her, only that this came up at all.
I don’t recall learning such things in kindergarten, but they have been learning about the life cycle of plants, butterflies, mealworms. As soon as Sam walks through the door he’s at his table sketching out his new knowledge. Until recently, the end of life has been a topic easily avoided. But today, Sam wants to talk about death and dying.
“See, Mom, this is death. Gone. Bones.”
“And what do you think about that?” I ask, stealing tricks from my former therapist.
He says, “When we’re bones we’re in the ground. Right?”
“Well, yes, but then we go to heaven and it’s a very happy place, not that here isn’t happy… and yes, death is part of the life cycle, but the human life cycle is really much longer than that of the mealworm,” I try. Has he realized our mortality?
“Heaven? Kitty heaven?” he asks. “But Kitty is in Kitty Heaven!” he declares. We lost a beloved cat a year ago and all he knew was that it was sick and went away. I guess he thought it moved next door. My fault.
“Yes, he is. But he’s so happy there, he has lots of kitty friends. And he eats his favorite cat food and fish every day.”
“Oh, no! My Kitty is dead! I am sad!” and he starts pushing out tears. Literally. I can see his nose scrunch up as he tries to make them fall. I am fascinated. But then he is crying, “I want Kitty back! He was my friend! Zoey (our other cat) is NOT my friend, she hisses! I’ll never see Kitty again?”
I concede that Zoey is a little mean. I pull a photo of Kitty off the fridge and hand it to him. “No, we won’t see him again, but every time you think of him, he’ll be here in your heart.” I congratulate myself on navigating this subject for now, well aware that perhaps I should have tackled it a year ago. Cowardice.
The next few mornings, a teary Sam appears downstairs clutching Kitty’s photo. Although he hasn’t seen him in over a year, I can see he’s processing. Each morning he tells me how sad he is and that he loved Kitty.