explaining death to my three year old

Today we discovered that our cat G.K. Chesterton, “Chester” had died in the night, curled up in his kitty bed.  While I have been sad since we found out about his terminal cancer I was more worried about how Reuben (not to mention our other crazy cat, Conan) would respond. How do you explain death to a three year old?

Dave and I buried Chester in our backyard this morning after we had dropped Reuben off at childcare. We put a white stone on top of the grave to mark it. Later, when Reuben came home we explained that Chester had died and that he was never going to come back, he was in kitty heaven and that Jesus was taking care of him. Reuben replied “I’m sad about Chester.” “We’re sad too buddy, do you have any questions?” Dave responded as he held Reuben’s hand and walked him over to his sandbox.  “you buried Chester. We lost him” Reuben continued.  We had watched a Sesame Street video earlier this week about loss, which only made me more depressed about Chester and confused Reuben about why a wild turtle would wander into Big Bird’s nest and then wander away.

where did my turtle go?

Later that night at dinner Reuben continued to talk about Chester. Here is how the conversation went:

Reuben : “Is Chester under the rock?”
Dave:”Yes, I dug a deep hole and we put him in it”
R: “we need to take that rock off of Chester so he can get out.”
D: “No, Reuben he’s not alive any more.”
R: “If we move the rock he’ll pop up!”
J: “No, he won’t pop up.”
R: “We won’t believe our eyes!” He says as he shovels spaghetti into his mouth.
J: “We won’t believe our eyes about what?” I’m starting to wonder where he’s getting this stuff.
R: (More chewing of the spaghetti)
D: “What won’t we believe our eyes about Reuben?”
R: “We won’t believe our eyes when we see Chester!”
D: “I wouldn’t believe my eyes if I saw Chester, that would be a miracle. But he’s not coming back, he’s dead”
J: “Did you know that after Jesus died, his disciples couldn’t believe their eyes when he came back from the dead? It was a miracle!”
R: “Did Jesus not believe his eyes?”
J:  “Did Jesus not believe his eyes about what?”

R: “Did Jesus not believe his eyes when he saw Chester pop up?”
(At this point we are trying not to laugh at kid logic, the wonderfully hilarious way kids put things together).
D: “Chester is with Jesus now, he’s safe and happy in kitty heaven.”

Well, obviously Reuben is not too traumatized. I can’t say the same for our other cat Conan who is wandering around the house meowing and trying to snuggle us at any chance he gets.

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3 thoughts on “explaining death to my three year old

  1. Sorry Jess that Chester is gone. ;( It’s so sad to lose one of the family. I have felt on and off sadness for Lady bug (my fave childhood dog) for several years… even as recently as last summer. As pathetic as that may seem, Ladybug was a good and loyal friend to me through several traumatic events in my life between 10 – 16 years old. I understand & know that Chester’s death will require mourning for a little while. 😦 I am glad to hear though that Rue-bear isn’t significantly traumatized. I think Ran will be very sad when Jerri or Putty dies.

  2. While I am sorry about Chester, sadness, I could not STOP from laughing at all the things Reuben said. Love that kid!

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