Being a novice parent I had mistakenly assumed that my first conversation about death with Saskia would be about Ben. Yesterday I discovered that in fact her first lessons on death would be in the garden: the squashed snail I’d accidentally trodden on (Oops! Luckily she didn’t realise that I was the culprit), the fly that wasn’t buzzing but looking distinctly like a raisin (“Don’t eat it Saskia!”) with its legs in the air, and even the dead flowers that she’s helped me to prune – all required explanations about dying and death.
Now it seems so obvious that this would be how she first encountered death (in a context that she can comprehend at least). So far we haven’t gone further than me saying that an animal or flower has died, with her listening, processing and sometimes repeating the words, but I guess it means the ‘conversation’ has begun, and so has Saskia’s journey of understanding.
Nature seems an obvious place to start. As adults we tend to talk about death in abstract ways – of the spirit, of memories, of peace – but Saskia’s world is concrete, it concerns the here and now, what she can see, feel, do, say. At the moment she cannot frame questions – but I would guess that as soon as she can, in 6 months or so maybe, she’ll want to know where Daddy is. We won’t be able to talk about the abstract concepts that we use with older children or adults to talk about death, so nature seems a good place to start. Maybe not squashed snails (a bit brutal!), but just ordinary life and death, growing old or getting sick, as it happens in the garden every day.