Tell them they will never die because they are too young to understand object permanence. Avoid their questions. You do not own any pets.

Discover that your children have learned the word already.

Adopt a dog from a shelter and treat it like another one of your children. Stay up with it through the night and wake up with it burrowing into your arms, its body still warm with sleep. It will become anxious when you or your children are not around it which you will chalk up to its size and breed and not your coddling. While you are brushing your teeth, you will have the vague thought that you are an ethically inconsiderate parent, for you have brought both life and death into the homes of children who do not know yet the price of loving a warm, small thing. For two minutes, death is something that only befalls the non-human. Remember as you spit.

Tell them that you and your spouse and their kindergarten teachers will never die. Observe the absolute certainty of your children and wonder if you have made a mistake in saying this.

Save an article you found about how the puppeteer who played Big Bird was supposed to fly in the Challenger, but only because his costume was too big was he let off the hook.

When your eldest comes home from kindergarten with a worksheet on owls and shapes and the Life Cycle, email the teacher of the kindergarten who will refer you to the principal who you will speak at in her office sipping the glass of water she gives you as if you are someone to calm down from the croup. Your child will have an excuse not to turn in the worksheet and you will feel like one small battle has been won.

Gently bring up the idea of immortality as something undesirable.

Assure your children with stern eyes that your house is sturdy and that if there should ever be a hurricane or flash flood or deep freeze or terrorist attack or swerving car or sickness unto death, there is a strong lock at the front of your door. It will hold against all evils.

Wonder at your own limbs, the marks of age scarring and pocking the surface of your skin and the odd instruments that are still somehow, marvelously, working. By this time you are in your late thirties, but you are a young late-thirties and the acne you had as a teenager is serving you in unseen ways. Of this and other things, you are grateful.

Stock your shelves with soup and flour, fill the laundry room with flashlights.

Do not tell your children how certain things can feel like death, like the loss of love or time or people that you loved but did not love in the right way. Hide your Plath poetry books. Find other ways to explain history.

Become obsessed with researching better explanations for your explanation.

Read all of the child-rearing manuals your mother gives you.

Consider briefly the idea of heaven.

Do not tell them of your own fears, or how the years you spent watching CSI with your father led you to forever associate unexpected phone calls or sudden knocks at the door with peril. Realize that you have spent your entire life waiting for this to happen. When they are old enough, tell them how your friend called you after she harmed herself, and how you gave the phone to your mother because you did not know what to say.

Tell them how actors meditate when they die onscreen, and how most deaths are shot in freeze-frame.

Believe in an afterlife.

When they are old enough to joke about it, tell them the story of when, for a poetry assignment, you carried a Post-it around with the words “I am a dead person” stuck somewhere on your shirt. Tell them how it kept falling off, so you replaced it. Tell them how your mother collected the Post-it notes and stuck them onto your bedroom dresser table and that neither of you have mentioned it since.

Believe you will be reincarnated as something like yourself, but kinder.

Make for it a space at the table.

Tell them about the cycles of rain and snow, about how water is rushed back from the earth into the sky, then released again.


Tell them instead the way you would like to have been told, not just about death but other aches we learn with age, with a warm hand pulling them softly from their sleep. Do not talk down to them. Tell them also how when a wound is formed in the surface of the skin, the body works to repair itself. Tell them how their platelets join and form clots. Tell them how the wound is cleansed and bloomed with white blood cells, about the fibroblasts and epithelial cells and other names that will sound less like words and more like prayers into their sleep-slowed ears. Tell them this so that they do not learn to fear their own bodies. Tell them also of the death that works to heal, of the myofibroblasts that press their backs against the bodies of an open wound, and, when the wound is closed, they destroy themselves. Tell them of first shocks and first knowledge. Tell them of nirvana and nitrogen, of the pain in pressing one’s own limbs awake. Tell them how fire in grasslands awakens the land anew.