Death and the 7-year-old.

smiling at the playground“I don’t want to die!” He screams hysterically. I would have thought he’d just woken up from a terrible nightmare, except that he’s only been in bed for less than two minutes.

“Ever!” He screams some more, his eyes wide with fear. An observer might think he was teetering on the edge of life and death. That he was facing the Grim Reaper and Father Time and the other personifications of the end of life. “I don’t want to die EVER. Even when I’m old!”

He continues, “I could die TOMORROW!” He is panicky and on the verge of hyperventilating. Maybe. I don’t really have experience with that sort of thing.

There is no script for what to do in this situation. I didn’t read a lot of parenting books in preparation, but the ones I did skim through never seemed to touch on the right thing to say when your seven-year-old is terrified of the fact that he will…even if it’s one hundred years from now…die.

I turn to what works when he has nightmares. When the bad dreams keep him up at night and he claims they’ll go away if only he sleeps in my bed, I make him think of happy things. I ask him what kinds of things he would do on the best day of his life. What is his favorite thing we did today? What makes him smile?

Tonight this works. We talk about the bike ride we had this past weekend, and how we should definitely do that more before it gets too cold outside. He tells me that on the best day of his life he would go swimming and read lots of books and build with LEGOs.

He smiles and the tears dry. He rests his head back on his pillow and pulls the blanket up to his chin. He is ready to sleep. I rub his back as he closes his eyes, whisper how much I love him, and then I leave.

This is the second time in the past three days that he has panicked about the fact that he will die some day. And I’m at a loss as to what to say, what to do.

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