Today at school, M wondered aloud what it was like to be dead. Most of us have asked this question at one time in our lives. Very big brains spend years reflecting on this question. However, this is the kind of query that triggers an immediate phone call to a child’s parents, followed by a visit to the local children’s hospital, where a medical doctor needs to assess the child before e or she can return to school.
I’m glad the school board is taking children’s mental health issues seriously. Starting when he was about 6 years old, M would talk about wanting to die from time to time. Having experienced mental health issues at various points in my life, I found this distressing. But at first, my husband didn’t take it as seriously and neither did M’s family doctor. Eventually we figured out that M tended to talk about dying when he was very anxious and feeling upset about something. But I know other parents whose children have tried to harm themselves and have struggled to get them help – despite greater public awareness of mental health issues and suicide, services for children under 12 years of age are hard to come by.
Fortunately for all concerned, M’s teacherquickly figured out that this was not a cry for help. M didn’t say he wanted to be dead – just what would it like to be dead. Not a simple question and certainly there are no easy answers. If it was, then someone probably would have pronounced on it before now.
I expect that M’s philosophical musings came less out of a desire to take on one of life’s big questions and more because his great-grandmother (on my husband’s side) is in the process of dying and one of our neighbours is terminally ill with cancer. We haven’t spoken to M directly about either situation, but we haven’t hidden the fact that we will probably have to go out-of-town for Nana’s funeral before too long. She is quite elderly and has not been well. M is a curious kid and it probably isn’t a big surprise that he is wondering about what happens when we die.
My husband had a brief discussion with M about his question on the walk home from daycare. M asks a lot of questions and often loses interest in the middle of his parent’s answer. He can ask a serious question one minute and then move onto describing his latest Pokemon game in the next. He may very well come back to this question at another time. Just not at school.