Death and the next-day nightmare

THE hot weather has meant restless nights all round. Both Billy and Dougie have had random, unexpected, one-night only hay-fever symptoms. (Pharmacist tip: put a bowl of water beneath an open bedroom window which will attract any pollen in the air like a magnet).
Everyone’s been a little over-emotional through lack of shut-eye.
Nothing prepared me though, for Billy’s next-day-nightmare.

Six-year old Bill is quite chirpy, not one to dwell on things and never afraid to ask a question. He’s usually a good sleeper but about once a month will wake up absolutely crying his head off. It’s quite a shocker, and usually happens just a couple of hours after he’s gone to bed.

He doesn’t take long to calm down, usually agrees to be taken to the loo, and despite trying to get him to tell us what’s wrong, he’s so quick to go back to sleep we don’t ask anymore.We had one of these wake-up-screamings this week.
The following day, Billy came to me in floods of tears, sobbing uncontrollably, asking if it was true that when you died you never woke up again? And when your heart stops, why doesn’t it just start again? And when you die, where does your brain go?

It took ten minutes of cuddling and cooing to calm him down enough so we could talk. Why had he suddenly got so upset about it? “It was what I was thinking when I woke up last night but when you asked what was wrong I couldn’t tell you,” he sobbed.

How do you explain death to a six-year old without scaring them even more?

We’re not religious. The whole “going to heaven” idea felt insincere.

You shouldn’t go on about people ‘going to sleep and never waking up’ either, or that a loved one has “gone to a better place,” prompting the child to think, “well, why didn’t they take me then?”

I tried to be as truthful as I could without being too graphic. I said that sometimes people’s bodies just wore out, or got broken, but some people believe that when your body stops working, your thoughts go to places you like and do things you enjoy, and they call that heaven.

He seemed to accept the explanation that unlike Mummy’s plants, humans can have brilliant long lives and even live for 100 years, and that every time someone dies, a new baby is born somewhere in the world.
Once we’d discussed the logistics of there needing to be room for new babies, he chirped right up and hasn’t mentioned it since.

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