“Lions don’t die – they kill other animals”, was his comeback.
“Yes, even lions die when they get old.”
“No! Lions only die if hunters shoot them!” he insisted.
Ah! Of course. The Hollywood story of lions.
Before we could discuss this more, we had arrived at his school, and we turned our attention firmly in the direction of life and the new day.
After the goodbye kisses and hugs, I got back in the car and headed to work. For my morning liten, I decided to catch up on last weekend’s This American Life podcast. The episode (#188) is titled: Kid Logic, and was first broadcast on JUN 22, 2001. The teaser states “Stories of kids using perfectly logical arguments, and arriving at perfectly wrong conclusions”, and I thought “Great! This will be a fun, diverting set of stories to listen to. And it was…until Act Four: One Brain Shrinks, Another Brain Grows, a story of a mother, Julie Hill, answering the questions of her 5-year-old son about the progressive and terminal illness of her husband, Doug, the boy’s father, who died of frontal lobe dementia at the age of 45, five years after the story is told. The narrative explores the child’s attempt to make sense out of a nonsensical state – that his vibrant and funny father was no longer able to live with their family, had to go to a nursing home, and the child wonders “What if you die, Mommy? Who will take care of me?”. The piece relates the coping strategies that this amazing mother comes up with to help her son survive and thrive. I was in tears by the end (not a great situation when stuck in traffic on I-95!).
Earlier this morning, I heard the story of Shirley Chambers on NPR’s Morning Edition, a woman in Chicago who lost her fourth child to gun violence last week. While our national attention has been captured by Sandy Hook, and Aurora, and Columbine, and Virginia Tech, there is an ongoing slaughter of children and adults going on every day in our inner cities, and I see it at second-hand, in my patient’s lives in Baltimore. Yes, violence could affect me and my family in the suburbs, but it is so much more likely to affect an individual or family living in the inner city neighborhoods that are plagued with poverty, drugs, and chaos.
Are we better off, in the more affluent parts of America, removed from Death, rarely experiencing the “cycle of life” (listen to the This American Life episode for the context of this reference). I don’t know. I do know that my boys know that death is real, and it will forever influence their realities and their personal stories. And I can only hope to help them try to make sense of the reality of Death as deftly as Julie Hill did for her son.