The day my 7 year-old laid down beside me and told me she was afraid to die was the day I realized my daughter was starting to have questions that were beyond my ability to explain and her maturity to understand the answer. Her logical reasoning told her that dying is so scary that it would be better not to be born at all. At the moment she told me her thought, my mind started to scatter about all the possibilities: “had she seen something on TV?”, “had she heard any talk?”, “had I, unaware and inadvertently, made her think that it was better not be born?” I had always tried not to shield her too much. I mean, of course, she is not allowed to see violent shows and even cartoons are parent supervised, even I have nightmares with some of the more violent cartoons that are going on TV such as “Dragonball” and alike, but in the end, I have always been quite open to her as death being a normal part of being alive.
In previous years, she had always expressed her fear of my death and I think it goes along with the normal child development, since it’s during these years, according to experts, that the child’s imagination find coping mechanisms to deal with the abstract thought of death. As adults, we have learned social/religious/scientific means to deal with it, but as children we are still learning these tools. I realized that since it is such a far away perceived notion for her; death that is; that she doesn’t know how to deal with this primary fear that exists in all of us. In old Tibet, children were used to death, since after the funeral ceremonies, the corpse would be cut and laid in the open fields for it to decompose or for the wild animals to eat. These fields were called the charnel grounds. Even here in Africa, death is so normal and everywhere. There is always someone in the family who died of sickness or mal-nourishment, and outbreaks of epidemics flourish due to the poor hygiene and sanitary conditions.
The first time I encounter death, I was her age and my grandfather had passed way. For my daughter, it will probably be with the death of our dear dog who is old and sick. But beyond all these thoughts, my main concern was to make her feel loved and how important it had been for us that she had been born. As my baby girl is growing up, I wanted her to never doubt how much she was wanted, and how much joy she brings to our lives everyday. Even when she misbehaves, she is always loved and not a single moment of regret comes to our mind from her being born. My daughter still wanted to know what happens after death and because I had, long time ago, made a resolution not to impose my beliefs on my children, I did my best to explain the scientific reasoning for death and the many creeds and religions that people have and what they choose to believe it happens after death. I’m not sure if she understood even a third of what I said, but apart from being a kindhearted human being, I want her to feel free to choose the religion or ideology it suits her best. I find it important for her to discover first through logic and understanding and then through faith, for her to use her ability as a human being to think logically and, if she finds the conclusion of her reasoning suitable, then to develop faith.
She went back to sleep feeling reassured of how important is her life and how good it was to have her born, knowing that people believe in different things and that’s ok, and that at the end she has time to figure things out. Every time I have these talks with my children, I understand that being a mother is more than having the meals on time and clean clothes, being a mother is to help grow up to the challenges of the world today, it is to clean the bruises when they fall and to watch helplessly if they choose a dangerous path, it is to be the torch when there is no light to be seen. And even though sometimes I complain about the non-ending meals to be done, and clothes to wash, and things to clean, a sense of mission being fulfilled comes upon every time I lay down with the children and I know it’s time for the life changing talk.
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