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Daddy day care: How long until you die, daddy?

Kids can be pretty nasty. I've a friend with three. One of these was playing with her grandfather, who had sweets in his pocket. When the kid found out, she asked him for one. No, he said, for a joke. That's okay, the kid says, you'll be dead soon.

In fairness, I don't think she was being vindictive. Just practical. You're old, you'll die, then obviously I'll get any sweets that might be knocking around.

Most of the kids I know have had very little experience of death, so as far as they're concerned, it's as unthreatening as anything else in their lives. This is great, but it can create the odd difficult situation. A friend of my wife's called over, not long after she'd lost her mother.

Annie (seven) says to her, deadpan, like one of those unpleasant children in horror movies: "Your mammy's dead."

My wife's friend was slightly thrown. Then Mike, who's five, chimed in: "She's a skeleton now."

What can you do?

When my wife's aunt Hilda died in her sleep a few years ago, Annie caught her crying about it, and naturally enough, my wife told her the truth.

"I'm sad because Hilda died." This incident, the fact that their mother wept over a dead person, has passed into family legend. Annie and Mike frequently refer to the time Mammy was crying over her Auntie Helga.

"Hilda." My wife tells them. "Her name was Hilda."

They never seem to register this. Mike frequently asks who murdered Helga.


Annie has a greater appreciation of the finality of death than Mike. Anytime she hears of anybody dying, she needs to know what happened.

"The person was very sick and very old." I tell her.

"How old?"

"A hundred, I think."

She worries about her grandparents. Are they old? Are they going to die soon? She's always asking me my age. And she asks, too, from time to time: "When are you going to die, Daddy?"

"The way things are going, pretty damn soon, kid." I think this, but, of course, I don't say it.

Mike, on the other hand, has only one foot in the real world. He remarked recently that he would like to be dead.

"What?" I said. "Why?"

"I could meet my great-grandfather, and I could look down on everything."

This is what happens when you present kids with a fluffy-cloud heaven. What's to fear?

Goldfish have provided them with their only real experience of death so far. Both fish died within days of taking them home. The kids were upset, so we promised them more fish. These also died. They were not quite as upset, but they still sought new fish.

Third time round, only Annie's died. Mike's fish is still swimming around in the murk upstairs. But as the days went on, Annie only became more upset. Not because she had lost her fish, it turned out, but because Mike's had survived.