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by Tony Hicks
A couple weeks ago, my daughter looked at me and said, very matter-of-factly “Your Daddy is dead.”
Uh … what?
She was right. My dad died in 2007, about a year before she was born. How she got this information, I still have no clue.
My first thought was: “Great. My kid sees dead people.”
Like any reasonable parent in desperate need of a scapegoat, I blame Disney, which I’ll get to later. It’s difficult to explain death to a 4-year-old. My 10-year-old was 3 when her beloved great-grandmother died. I was at the hospital, and my ex-wife delivered the news. I wasn’t there for the conversation, so I don’t know how it went exactly. I do know she thought her grandma went to heaven and missed her very much.
But this latest death announcement came out of left field. It took me until the next morning to figure it out.
She was watching the prequel to The Little Mermaid for the 827th time that week, the movie that shows how Ariel’s mother died (They don’t really show it, but we’re led to believe she gets mowed over by pirates who need a brake job). After the scene, she turned to me and said, sadly, “Ariel’s mommy died.” Damn you, Disney.
Actually, I was sort of relieved that I didn’t have to explain it – yet.
I think I still have some talking to do, because my daughter is walking around and telling people my father is dead. She also tells other people their daddies are dead, which I imagine is pretty unnerving for folks whose daddies aren’t dead, as far as they know. I’m sure she’s prompted a few folks to whip out their cell phones to make sure this creepy, little, death-obsessed, psychic child doesn’t know something they don’t.
The situation made me aware of how much tragedy Disney/Pixar packs into films to set up the triumphant endings. My daughter isn’t traumatized or anything; I don’t necessarily think giving a small child a few life lessons on the way to happily wrapping up the story is a bad thing.
But I looked at the movies we’ve watched that feature a character’s death: The Little Mermaid prequel, Up, Finding Nemo and Tangled. My daughter deals with it pretty well, and if she doesn’t, I do my best to convince her everything will be okay in the end. But it’s a situation parents need to monitor, in case kids don’t handle death so well.
I remember being little and talking to another 5-year-old about death. I told him everyone dies. He picked up his Thermos and threw it at my face. So caution is always warranted.
I’m sure it’s a phase, just like talking to my neighbor’s truck was a phase (as far as I know, it never answered). When she’s old enough to understand more, I’ll try explaining more. I’ll also be honest and say there are a lot of different opinions about what happens when we die. I’ll tell her what I know – that I don’t. But that doesn’t mean she can’t have her own ideas.
In the meantime, I may ask her to stop freaking people out. Unless, it turns out, she really does know something the rest of us don’t.
Tony Hicks is a columnist with Bay Area News Group.
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