We've had a year full of death in our family. My brother-in-law (pancreatic cancer), my father (COPD/emphysema), and my grandmother (breast cancer) all passed away in the past 14 months. This has led to lots of discussion on illnesses and the finality that comes with life. My dad's sickness has been the one most challenging to explain since it was rooted in the lungs, and Caroline has asthma; so I had to work really hard at explaining that there are different degrees of sickness in the lungs and that her mild asthma is nothing like emphysema, and no, it won't kill her. We had to talk about cigarettes (which she previously had determined were sticks that people chew on) and look at diagrams of the lungs and all sorts of other fun stuff. But she finally got it as well as a 3 or 4 year old could.
Well this last week, the dark cloud of doom descended again. Our neighbor's bichon frise (dog) Charlie passed away. His owner approached Chuck and told him the bad news with tears in his eyes. He was so worried about how Caroline would take it, for she and Charlie had real connection. She really, really loved Charlie. The owner would bring him over for playtime, and Caroline would walk him around the yard on his leash. She talked about Charlie all the time, watched for him to go by on his daily walks, and wished he was her dog.
I dreaded breaking the news about yet another passing. and even moreso because all of our pets are positively geriatric and I didn't want her to realize that their deaths are not far-off. So I did what mothers do, and I put it off until I could no longer bear the tension or fear that she'd run up to the neighbor and ask where Charlie was. So I told her.
After I broke the news and we chatted a bit, she asked, "Mama?"
"Why did Charlie die?"
I explained, "He was very old. I didn't know he was so old, since he was so playful. I guess he just got sick and couldn't get better."
She paused a moment and looked up and earnestly asked, "Did he smoke too many little tiny doggie cigarettes?"