Talking to young children about death is difficult at best. While they can understand the absence of a person [Mommy and Daddy left me with the babysitter but will be back later] or an item [I've lost my favorite dolly], they are not mature enough to comprehend a failure to exist.
Two weeks ago, just before leaving for a long weekend on the coast, I accidently dropped [an apparently heavy] fish food tablet on the tail fin of our cory catfish named Blackbeard. Because we were out of time, my husband 'took care' of Blackbeard down the garbage disposal. Tempted to replace Blackbeard before any of the kids noticed, I decided instead to turn it into a teaching opportunity about death. We explained as gently as we could that Blackbeard went to heaven where he wouldn't be sick anymore. My two and a half year old didn't really have any follow-up questions, but my four-year old questioned death, heaven and visitation rights for days. In between fun, vacation activities of course.
Just as the kids were getting used to only have two fish left, Goldilocks, our orange goldfish died suddenly. We're not entirely sure what happened, but we do know that an aquarium prop was leaning irregularly. My husband and I talked to the kids again, but this time held a funeral in the backyard. The kids and I said a prayer and we asked Goldilocks to take good care of Blackbeard in heaven. There were questions of course, even from my youngest, but there was a certain closure I guess they received from the funeral process. I also think companionship for Blackbeard added ease since one of the lingering questions was about Blackbeard being alone.
Only Snow White, our albino goldfish remains. Lord, if you're reading my blog, please bless her with at least a few more months of life. I don't know if I have the strengh to muster another talk about death.