Amie Talks about Death Again

dead bird (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

In the evening Amie watched March of the Penguins. We had shown it to her about half a year ago but she wasn’t interested then. This time she was, going “oh so cute!” and so forth, but really paying attention when the little chick dies of exposure and the mother mourns over it.

– what happened to it?

– it died because it was too cold.

– but no, it didn’t get dead. Look, it’s moving, like this. [makes sad little movements with her head]

– no, sweetie, it’s dead.

– what is the mother trying to do now?

– the mother is so sad she is trying to steal a chick from another mother.

– stealing isn’t nice.

– see, the pack doesn’t allow it and the chick is back with its mother.

When we went to bed she wanted to sit in the pile of blankets to keep her egg warm. Then she wanted to talk about the penguins.

– I especially want to talk about when the chick got dead. I liked that.

– you liked it? Do you mean it made you happy?

– no.

– so you mean you are interested in it.

– yes. It’s interesting.

I had to explain again why the chick had died.

– but I didn’t see any blood.

– it wasn’t wounded, it was just too cold.

– can I have a baby penguin? It’s not too cold here.

– it’s too warm here. Penguins like it cold, but not too cold.

Seconds later:

– promise me we will die next to one another? [this while holding my head, her nose nearly touching mine, her eyes locked to mine]

– I can’t promise that, sweetie. We don’t know when we’ll die. It’s mostly not in our control.

– we could die in an accident.

– yes, or when we grow old and it’s time.

– but we don’t die on the cross. Only Jesus died on the cross. What is Jesus’ Mama’s name?

– Mary – not the Mary we know. A different Mary.

– What’s her last name?

– I don’t know.

– Jesus died and then Mary died too. They went far away. As far as… Auntie R. That was a long drive.

A little later:

– Mama, can we have another baby? But I want it to be a girl. We can call it Amie.

– but you are Amie. So we couldn’t call her Amie!

– but what if I die? And I still want to pinch your arm? [arm pinching is a leftover from nursing: she does it when tired or sad and when falling asleep]

I was dumbfounded. A weird thing, that statement: “Amie” (II) would still be pinching my arm, and that seemed to make her feel better about dying. Such a strange concept of identity, such fearless exploration of what death is and what it means to her! She soon fell asleep.

I’ve written about how I want to communicate to my daughter about death here.

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  1. I, too, am so moved by the way children relate to death so frankly and with such acceptance. It is valuable to shed some of our cultural hangups regarding death as we get to rethink death through the fresh perspective of our children.

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