So far, Oliver has not heard about what happened on Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. But kids talk at school, and on the playground, so I guess it’s inevitable that some kid who does know will say something. For now, though, I’m glad that my son does not know.
If/when he does, though, we’re going to have to talk about death. Oliver has limited experience with it. No close relatives have died during his life (except for his dad’s grandma, and my great-grandmother, but Oliver was too young to remember them).
We had a cat named Dangerkitty who died of cancer when Oliver was five. I have an ornament for the Christmas tree that holds Danger’s picture, and this year when we were decorating the tree, Oliver burst into tears. The poor kid was inconsolable. He loved that cat. He grew up grabbing fistfuls of her fluff, and she (sort of) tolerated it.
He knows that she died of cancer. We explained to him what cancer is, and that people can get it, too -- but that not everyone dies from it.
Once he asked me if she’s in heaven, and I’m not sure how to answer that, because all I know is I don’t know what happens when we die. So I told him that I think heaven sounds like a nice idea, and that a lot of people believe in it. I want to think that my beloved grandpa is over on the other side, wherever/whatever that may be.
Of course, this was all before the meeting with the pet psychic. My ex and his girlfriend have a big orange cat named Stanley who has been doing this yowling thing in the hall at like, 4:00 every morning. So they hired a pet psychic, of course.
First of all, the psychic talked to Stanley with her mind. The intriguing thing is that the pet psychic knew all kinds of stuff that she could not have known, like the fact that Stanley hated his new litterbox because it looked too much like the garbage can (Stanley’s words). And in fact, Stanley’s new litterbox was white with a round top, just like the garbage can, and he refused to use it -- but the psychic didn’t even GO to that part of the house, so like, what?!
Then she said that when Stanley is making noise in the early morning, what he is actually doing is playing with other cats. Ghost cats.
GHOST CATS. And then the psychic went on to describe these ghost cats, and the one who sometimes sleeps in Oliver’s room matched Dangerkitty’s description. The psychic also said this same cat visits another house, and my ex decided, based on the psychic's description of said house, that it is my house. (And this made me cry like a baby because even after two years, I miss my cat.)
At first we didn’t want to tell Oliver about all this, because we were afraid it would be too scary for him. Plus, it sounds crazy, right? But then we did finally tell him and it made him really happy to think that the spirit of his dead cat comes by to visit him. I can tell he's a little skeptical, as we all are, but it's a nice thought.
I guess my point is, that kids can handle a lot more than we think they can, whether it’s cancer or ghost cats or other things, as long as we frame it for them in a way that isn’t scary. I’ll be keeping that in mind, just in case Oliver comes home today asking about school shootings and why all those little kids died.
Caitlin Doughty of “Ask a Mortician” (love her!) has some great advice on talking to kids about death:
Have you had to explain Friday’s shooting to any of the children in your life? Do you remember learning about death as a child?
Somer is on Twitter @somersherwood