“Mommy, are you going to die?”

How Heather Grimes learned to talk to her daughter about death with more ease and fewer tears.

Tomsickova/Adobe Stock

Death is everywhere. The lifeless bugs on the windowsill. The dead mouse in the crawl space.

My preschooler, Opal, started plying me with questions when she was four. “Were you the one who died that mouse?” Or, “Do you think that moth knows he’s dead?” Cute out-of-the-mouths-of-babes comments tossed off as she buzzed on to her next activity. I’d gotten used to her frank, unemotional curiosity about death, but when her questions shifted from light banter to a source of terror, I was caught completely off-guard.

It happened just before her fifth birthday. She and her dad, Jesse, were settled on the couch with a copy of The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, a book we’d read to her a dozen times. She swallowed the spider to catch the fly. / I don’t know why she swallowed the fly. / Perhaps she’ll die. Opal suddenly started to cry and said, “When I die, will I still be with you and Mommy?”

Jesse scooped our daughter into his arms and held her as she sobbed into his shoulder. “We love you. We’ll take care of you. We love you,” he assured her.

The next day was filled with more questions,…

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