I don’t want to bring you down or anything, but this is a post about death. And farming.
I’ve been thinking about how to broach the subject of death with Little e, since she’s now of the age when she notices and questions and ponders things like this. And the reality of death is sometimes so hard to grapple with even as an adult that I want to be honest and careful in how we present it to her. It’s no big deal; it happens every day. It is a big deal; it happens every day.
This feels especially important right now, when we see things like this.
The other week we visited our friend Aimee’s farm not far from where we live. It’s a working farm, full of livestock and relics of old tractors. A magical, earthy, sensual place—sensual in the experience-it-with-all-five-senses way. The musty, nose-filling smell of the chicken coop, far-off barks of dogs, the chill of the ocean wind on your cheeks. There were piglets to feed and calves to spy behind the hulking bodies of their mothers. Turkeys to talk to and eggs to collect. There was so much life.
But this is a working farm and these are its products. Death is close by for some, and not far off for others. The rationale for/against animal husbandry is a conversation we’ll have with Little e at another time, but the immediate thing, the destiny of all the animals—us included—followed me around as we petted chickens and chased dogs. How could we explain death to a four-year-old in a matter-of-fact, sensitive way? My first impulse was to shield her from it—to distract her from the carcass of a chicken in the corner of the coop. But afterward I thought maybe I should have let her see, let her ask questions. I’m constantly surprised by how calmly she will consider and accept abstract concepts.
And maybe that’s how we should approach it: simply, calmly. Luckily I’ve just come across this book, which tells the story of every death with such grace and honesty. As a parent, something in me cringes when I see the illustration of a dead bird, the crumpled butterfly wings—this is a child’s picture book!—but why should that be? Why shouldn’t Little e be able to understand and respect the everywhere-ness of death? The illustration disturbs me because of my own connotations of it, which she doesn’t yet have. It feels as if I need to tread carefully with this sharing of knowledge, so that it doesn’t become sharing of fears.
I don’t know the best way to do this, other than finding more books to read and advice to mull over. How was death explained to you as a child, or how did you explain it to children in your life?
And now, more farm beauty, including a very sleepy Wooly Bear caterpillar.
(Special thanks to Aimee for inviting us to her farm-haven and giving us such a wonderful tour.)