“I don’t want to die!”
My son let his spoon crash onto the floor, his morning Cheerios spilling through the cracks of the hardwood, and cried in a painful wail. He was 4 years old, and he had just come face to face with the inevitability of his own mortality.
We’d let slip the secret that everyone dies one day. We’d just made a visit to his great-grandfather, who was being kept alive through an oxygen mask attached to his face, and we’d carelessly let the truth out.
“Even me?” our son asked.
We didn’t want to lie. “Not for a long, long, time,” his mother told him. “But – yes. Even you.”
Up until that moment, we didn’t really know if he understood what death was. He’d seen bugs get swatted and villains defeated on TV, and he’d even yelled out that he was going to kill the bad guys in a few rowdy play sessions — but we weren’t sure if he knew what any of it meant.
He cried for 10 minutes straight after he found out. It wasn’t like any tantrum we’d seen before. He shut down completely, dropping the food from his hand, and started wailing with more misery than he’d ever shown. It took 10 full minutes to calm him down enough to get him to curl into the fetal position in a bed, his mother’s arms wrapped around him, and he still wasn’t talking.