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July 07, 2011

Love, loss and 5-year-olds

I was attacked as soon as I walked through the front door.

"Moooomm!" Mads screeched as she threw herself at me. "You have to see this! It's the most exciting thing in your whole world!"

She grabbed my hand and tugged, pulling me toward the bathroom.

We're thankfully past the stage where I have to bear witness to every deposit left in the toilet ("Look! A mommy poo and two baby poos! Maybe they're going to the bookstore!") so I wasn't really sure what all the fuss was about. But I soon found out.

"A butterfly!" she breathed, pointing at the ceiling. "A butterfly came to live in our bathroom!"

Now, to be honest, it actually wasn't a butterfly but a tiny black-and-white moth. But as far as Mads was concerned it was the most amazing creature on the planet. And it had come to live with us.

Unfortunately, though, it died with us, too. Last night when I sent her in to brush her teeth she came right back out of the washroom, stricken.


 "What happened to our butterfly?" she asked.

I should have noticed the trembling bottom lip, the watery eyes. But I didn't.

"Oh, he's in there somewhere," I told her. "Maybe he's hiding."

"No, he's not," she cried, holding out her hand. Her tiny butterfly sat perfectly still in her palm. Dead.

There were so many tears. She sobbed and shuddered, totally devastated. It just about broke my heart.

So we took her little butterfly outside and found a peaceful spot beneath a tree in the front yard. We threw a handful of bark mulch over it and she marked the grave with a green plastic bottle cap.

Storytime took ages. She interrupted our billionth reading of Curious George and the Surprise Party with tearful questions that seem too big for a 5-year-old.

Why did it die? How did it die? How old was it? How old are you? How old is grandma? Will it be dead forever? Is being dead sad?

I fumbled my way through them, wishing again that I believed in some kind of afterlife. It would just make these parenting moments so much easier.

But in the end we decided to think more about the really happy, cool life her butterfly had lived. After all, he got to be a caterpillar, to live in a cocoon, to burst into a butterfly, to fly wherever he wanted, to land on flowers and live amongst treetops.

Of course that may not be entirely true, because after all, he was a moth. The highlight of his life was probably chewing through a few favourite sweaters. And then that one brief moment near the end when a perfect, sweet little girl mistook him for a butterfly and loved him with her whole, huge heart.

July 7, 2011 | Permalink


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I think this would be a beautiful children's book!

Posted by: Laurie | Jul 8, 2011 3:57:17 AM

I just stumbled upon your blog today and I'm glad I did. I agree with Laurie this would be a wonderful book. My little one is only 13 months old but and I shutter to think of how I would handle these types of questions. Reality is hard for us all and the first time is a doozy.

Posted by: Jessica | Aug 15, 2011 8:03:02 AM

This past summer, I was ready to give birth to the baby boy who had been growing inside me for 9 months. My almost 3 yr old was SO excited to become a big brother. We went to the hospital after a couple hours of being in labour, and we found out that our baby had flipped himself around, become tangled in his cord, and passed away. The hardest thing I have ever had to go through in my life was explaining it to my son. He is now obsessed with knowing everything about life and death, why his fish died, why his baby died, and when his mommy and daddy will die. I am glad you talked to your daughter about this, far too many people try to shield their children from the reality, but its imporant to learn about these things. I agree that this would make a very cute story book!

Posted by: Debbie | Mar 29, 2012 2:23:41 PM

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"Having a two-year-old is like having a blender that you don't have the top for." ~Jerry Seinfeld.

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