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The Conversation That A Sick Fish Can Inspire

I always feel a little weirded out when separate conversation threads on the same topic converge on the same day.

Last night I was out with a few girlfriends and we were talking about how to discuss death with kids -- the conversation was inspired by one of my friends sharing that she was called out as “barbaric” for taking her kids to a funeral. Of course, I thought this was absurd. I have always felt that it’s important to talk openly to kids about death (in an age appropriate way of course); in fact, Laurel has attended an open casket funeral and it was totally fine (and she’s very comfortable in cemeteries since we visit my Dad’s grave periodically).

Then I came home and Jon told me about a chat that he had had with Laurel -- the conversation was inspired by Laurel learning that my in-laws' fish, Bubbles, was sick. It went something like this:

Laurel: What happens to animals when they die? Do they get buried in the ground?

Jon: Sometimes…maybe small animals. But then sometimes larger animals -- and actually people too -- might go in other ways. Like they’re put in a box that gets really hot so they turn to ashes. For people, those ashes are kept in a special container or are spread in a place that was very special to the person who died.

[I was impressed that Jon decided to tackle the topic of cremation -- he said that Laurel totally took it in stride.]

Laurel: What happens if parents die? Like, what happens to the kids?

Jon: Well, there’s a thing called a will.

Laurel: Do you have one?

Jon: Yes, actually, Mommy and I just redid ours not too long after Violet was born.

Laurel: Why?

Jon: Well, it’s especially important to have wills when you have children. That way, if something happens to the parents, there is a plan in place for who will take care of the kids.

Laurel: [Shockingly not freaked out by the idea of something happening to us…] Who will take care of me and Violet if something happens to you and Mom?

Jon: We have a few different options listed, but probably Grandma and Grandpa.

Laurel: Oh, good! [And then a thoughtful pause.] But how will they know?

Jon: How will they know what honey?

Laurel: How will they know that something happened to you? [Then before Jon could answer…] Oh wait, it’s OK. We have them on speed dial. I could call them and let them know that Violet and I need them.

I stood amazed at this point, with so many thoughts and feelings swirling through me. I was amazed that Laurel and Jon could converse about cremation without any freak out (and no bad dreams last night either). I was comforted by the idea that if Jon and I do in fact get hit by a meteor tomorrow, Laurel would be comfortable with Grandma and Grandpa as guardians (at least in this distanced conversation). And I feel utterly weepy knowing that my big girl was thinking about a way to act and move forward on her and her sister’s behalf if something happened to me and Jon.

And I was amazed by the conversation that a sick fish can inspire. Here's the card Laurel made -- I'm putting it in the mail for Bubbles today. I especially love the references to fish talk.

Have you talked to your kids about death and burial and cremation? How have you approached it?