Dead Pets and Three Year Olds
Last night one of our old cats died (she was 14, and had been sick for a while). Today my wife buried her, and then we found ourselves stumped by that question: what do you tell your little 3 year old daughter?
At these times you feel torn between the desire to tell the truth, and the desire to lie to make everything all right. Of course, on the one hand, a three year old cannot likely understand “death” in the way we do. So there’s little sense in trying to make the concept that clear. At the same time, however, you can say things that are extensionally equivalent, but just as upsetting, like “well, it means that she’s gone away and won’t ever come back” or things of that nature. At the same time, you could just not tell her anything. She’s three, and might not even notice. You could just always say that you don’t know where she is at the moment, and must be outside in the bushes somewhere. And sooner or later, she’d forget about the cat.
I’m curious what people think about this sort of thing. If you have a kid, what do you do? Or what will you do? If you don’t, what would you do if you did have one? Truth? Lie? Somewhere in between? Of course, one day (hopefully not too soon) it won’t be a pet anymore, it’ll be a person, so the potential impact will be much greater.
For the record, my wife said that the cat was asleep, and that she’d stay asleep forever. Parker was pretty much untroubled by the thought of Luka taking a very long nap (what’s “forever?”), and then went about her business doing something else. I was immediately reminded of Kierkegaard’s point that Adam had absolutely no idea what God was talking about with all of that business of “good and evil” and “dying” when he warned him not to eat the apple in the Garden.