The One Where We Talked About Death…

Jess McGlynnDecember 18, 2012

Last Wednesday we returned home from picking the kids up from Liverpool to a very sad discovery.  Our rabbit, George had died.  We’re not entirely sure how this happened (I personally think his hutch-mate Peppa had been bullying him away from the food!) but it was nonetheless a very sad experience.

I’ll admit, I was slightly undone, it being midnight and having just spent the last 5 hours in the car…I did shed a tear or two.  He was only 9 months old after all.  Plus there was the awkward issue of, what do you do with a dead rabbit at midnight?  I was not at all impressed with my Other Half’s ‘circle of life’ suggestion that we leave him out for the three local foxes either!

My sister and George…it’s the only photo I promise!

Of course, once we had sympathetically removed George from the hutch the bigger question became, what on earth were we going to tell Meg?

I had no idea whether she had any grasp or understanding of death and what it means.  I think once before we had heard her say during a game “now you’re dead” but this seemed out of character and just something she was repeating. 

So, I figured we had three options:

1. Tell her bluntly that George had died and wouldn’t be coming back.
2. Explain that George was poorly and couldn’t get better so had gone to Rabbit heaven.
3. Say nothing and wait until she noticed he wasn’t there and make out that he escaped and ran away.

I pondered over which one was kindest for the majority of the night before deciding on the second option as the most toddler-friendly.

I sat her down, made sure she was well watered and fed so her attention wouldn’t wander and started to explain in the gentlest way I could that George had been poorly and unfortunately Mummy and Daddy weren’t able to make him better.  Her first response was “well Jesus could make him better” (I decided to sidestep this point as much as I believe in miracles I’m not entirely sure whether I believe in miracles for rabbits and besides, it was a little late for that!) “Not this time sweetheart” said I, “unfortunately George has already died” and so we reached the heart of the matter.

She had absolutely no concept of what ‘died’ meant.  Was he coming back in a little while?  Could we go and see him?  Why couldn’t we take him to the doctors?  Why did he have to die?

Round and round in circles all day she fired these questions at me and to be honest, I was completely adrift.  How on earth do you explain death to a toddler?  She had no understanding whatsoever that we are all living creatures and that sometimes people (and animals) die…this is a conversation I hadn’t expected to have for a very very long time.  It broke my heart a little bit to think “well, thank goodness it’s just an animal and not a person” as I think that would have completely destroyed me.

I attempted to cover as many bases as I could with her, and answer her questions as honestly as possible despite the fact that she didn’t really get it.  Is it a topic we should cover up in order to protect our children?  I don’t know…my child is only 3…should we have said nothing?  I don’t know whether I think being honest was the best policy in this case.  I almost feel as though it’s opened up a bigger can of worms than if we’d just told her that George had escaped and run away.

Even now, several days after the incident I’m still unsure whether we’ve done the right thing.  As my Other Half pointed out, George was just a rabbit, we didn’t need to explore such a serious issue at such a young age.  But, it’s done now isn’t it.  We’ll just have to deal with any further questions as best we can I guess!   

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