Understanding death at four years old

Ma died last year. I stood vigil for our clan matriarch at her home, singing hymns alongside my eight brothers and sisters, with my father–her husband of sixty-two years–at her side whispering sweet reassurances to her as she left on a Friday afternoon.


When we’d visit my parent’s home three hours from here, four year old Charlotte knew since she could walk where ma kept the dried raisins in the kitchen. Grandma was someone she trusted and loved. 

When I returned home from the vigil, my little one was deeply affected upon hearing the news. She protested, earnestly crying out, “Oh no, but I won’t see her again.”


In late winter, the first time back to my father’s home she asked where her grandmother was as she entered the living room. The living room was where ma would sit with dad all those years. Charlotte asked for her grandmother only once, as if calling a bluff, her blue eyes locking on mine as she waited for an answer. It was as if she was seeking proof that grandma was no longer with us, in her way holding out hope while testing the permanence of this idea called death. 



Since then, we’ve had occasion to find the odd dead bird on our property. It’s across the street from one of the great lakes, Lake Ontario, along a migratory flyway. I buried the first one we found this spring in our garden while Charlotte watched. Wounded, she complained, “I’m never going to see it again, daddy.” 

Once the earth was patted down over the avian grave, I asked her, “Do you remember what it looked like?” She said, “Yes, it had black and yellow feathers and it was small.” I told her that the bird was inside her now, in her memory, and that it would always be there. That once something dies it still stays with us, because we remember it. The more we love something, the more it stays with us.

And that she will always be inside me and I will always be inside her, in our hearts, because we love each other. We live a little bit inside each other, I told her. Just like grandma is inside her too, with her always and with me always. The most important thing is that all of us will be together forever, no matter what.

She seemed reassured.

Though, later she complained to her mother that daddy had put grandma and a bird inside of her body and she wasn’t very happy about it.

d n c kiss

P.S. need help with saying goodbye to a loved one? Contact me here.


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