Doctor Who: The Doctor and I Explain Death to a Four-Year-Old

The reason that my daughter isn't named Relm isn't only because my wife thinks that Final Fantasy VI was a lackluster entry in the franchise. It's mostly because we named her after our best friend Kat Cresswell, who we lost to cancer nine years, two months, and 16 days ago. She was an amazing girl whose example colors all I create.

Every year I visit her grave on the anniversary of her death. Every year but this one, as I was covering Comicpalooza on that date. Poverty dictated that I delay my pilgrimage, and the next time I was in Pearland was to pick up birthday presents for my daughter from Kat's mother, my daughter's Yaya and honorary grandparent.

South Park Cemetery is on the way back from Yaya's house, and I decided that this was when I would take my daughter, just turned four-years-old, to see where her namesake was buried.

"Come on, heart," I said as we got out of the car. "There's something I want to show you, but you have to be quiet, like in church." She was still wearing the pretty rose dress she had attended services in with my sister-in-law that morning. I've never been to church myself. I just assume it's quiet there.

Flashback
Doctor Who: 5 Reasons to be Excited About an Older Doctor

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Waiting for the announcement of the Twelfth Doctor
We walked to the bench that bears Kat's name. Shaded by a tree, it over looks the tombstone proper, inscribed with her name, dates, and lyrics from "You Are My Sunshine." I remember carrying her coffin to this spot like it was yesterday.

"This is a cemetery," I told her. "It's a place where we put the bodies of people who have died. Your Aunt Kat, who has your name, is buried here, and I like to come here to think about her and tell her that I still love her very much. I wanted to bring you here today, so you could see the place."

My daughter crawled up onto my knee as I knelt. I was crying and my voice was hoarse, and she put her arms around me.

"Maybe she'll regenerate," she said.

My daughter isn't very clear on death. This is somewhat my fault because she loves Doctor Who and I am loathe to tell her it's not real just as I wouldn't dream of telling her Santa Claus wasn't real.

She's seen death. Her daycare has lost several classroom pets, even having tiny funerals for them. She knows dead people go to Heaven (More complicated after-life discussions can wait until later), and that her Aunt Kat watches out for her.

But her hero is The Doctor. He's her Jesus, her imaginary friend, her older brother, and lots of other things. That's awesome, of course, but it's given her kind of a skewed viewpoint on death. She knows The Doctor dies, but really doesn't, and she knows that Matt Smith is an actor, not an actual Time Lord. She's less clear on Patrick Troughton, and was devastated when I told her that he would not be the new Doctor because he too was in Heaven. How could The Doctor be in Heaven? This song is ending, but the story never ends, and all that.



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34 comments
pungal5
pungal5

This was absolutely lovely. Children will always relate things to what they know, so The Doctor was a perfect example to use. People teach death to children using a story in Sunday School (not a knock on religion-I have considered studying to be a pastor). I think it's important that death is not treated as something taboo to discuss, and I think it's especially important that kids see grownups remembering and honoring the loved ones we've lost.

godette
godette

You make me laugh, you make me cry.

fourtythieves
fourtythieves

hope springs eternal. always inspire never discourage. Its our job as parents to teach without hurting that innocence. i can only hope to come up with inspirational answers for my 3 year old daughter when she starts to ask the "difficult" questions. great job 


usedtobeslo181
usedtobeslo181

I just lost my grandmother, and reading this , it was just to perfect. such a wonderful parent. 

mummywho
mummywho

what a lovely way to explain, i am a firm believer in letting children be children and at 4 years old she is still a baby who does not need to know the gruesome truth about death, no child should have there innocence taken from them by an adult. help the dreams, folly, happiness last as long as you can as the next time you look she will be a moody twenty year old who knows far too much of real life and you will wish for the years back , i look at my daughters and never what them to grow up i always want to see the tiny wellies stood in the hall way and the sticky finger prints on my tv. ,,,, well done to you for getting your parenting so right xx

tardisblue1963
tardisblue1963

I thought this was beautiful. I think it is right and proper that your daughter adores Patrick Troughton as I also wish he could be the next Doctor. 

ObiMomKenobi13
ObiMomKenobi13

Are you kidding me? You need to be punched right in the face. What a completely idiotic thing to tell a child. You DO know that the Doctor isn't real? And that although it is just fine to have the occasional 'Santa Claus' type fantasy, that children need to be taught as soon as they start watching television that it is just a story, pretend, and that the people they see are actors? There is no hope in 'buried in the ground' for a 4 year old to grasp. I would say it is positively 'creepy stalker' of you to worship a television show, and a great and heinous act to teach a child that it has some kind of spiritual connotation. It's entertainment. Good entertainment, but that is all. 

drusilla.grey
drusilla.grey

Beautiful.

But she did regenerate. Into energy. Energy for the grass to grow and flowers to bloom. Then into the air we breathe. And into us to keep us living. Remember Carl Sagan's theory that we are made of stardust? We are. And when we die, we release that energy back into the universe. Matter cannot truly be destroyed. Not even by death. Just converted or broken down into other matter.

to.the.nerd
to.the.nerd

An excellent way to explain life and death is through Who. I am a firm believer of that. Thanks for sharing a very personal and poignant experience. I laughed and teared up at the idea of being in the graveyard and your daughter seeing those weeping angels! Perfect imagery. 

ms.melissahunter
ms.melissahunter

Parenting: You are doing it right...and awesomely. LOVE that you call Katy "Heart." 

Hanabi-chan
Hanabi-chan topcommenter

Dude, how am I going to explain my runny mascara to my boss? So beautifully written, and what an awesome father you are to actually talk to your daughter about a difficult subject in an intelligent, gentle manner!  To not dismiss her because she is too young and "can't possibly understand." Your little lady is awesome and adorable. You and your wife are doing a great job in raising her.

Kudos on the angel tip.  Seriously, Doctor Who has wrecked my perception of statuary angels for life.

Linda Hardy
Linda Hardy

I think, this is part of the problem we have today. Young people relate to much to video games or shows, where people die and come back. Nobody has explained the reality of death. IT IS PERMANENT. Even this precious little girl thought this women would rejuvenate. Death is real and kids can and do handle it every day. Life isn't a video game where you can kill people and they come right back and there isn't a consequence. All parents should teach their children this lesson.

cfein
cfein

Clearly, I need to up the budget for tissues around here. That was astounding.

sg.alxndr
sg.alxndr

Awww, man. I'm just. Wow.  That was lovely.

corvus1970
corvus1970

@ObiMomKenobi13 - The child is four years old, do you understand? Four, not seven, not nine, not twelve. I didn't really understand the permanence of death until I was seven years old and my uncle died, and not understanding it until then did me no damage.


Since then I've been to more wakes and funerals than I can easily count, including that of my own mother, and my father-in-law. I know all-too-well what death does, and how it feels to go on after someone is gone. I've seen it grab hold of a person and linger, eating away at them slowly, and I've seen it strike them like lightning.


Existence itself will soon enough bring grim reality to the front of this child's heart and mind. In this case there's no reason to rush it along. Understanding WILL come, and how dare you have the arrogant audacity to declare your way the only way.


Grow the hell up.

pungal5
pungal5

Every Sunday people teach children of hope to be found in "buried in the ground."

TelzeyAmberdon
TelzeyAmberdon

@ObiMomKenobi13 Sorry, but any possible somewhat-legit point you might have had to make was completely obscured by your Complete and Utter Douchebaggery.   Please pat yourself on the back some more for being the only smart person on the internet because I assure you, nobody else is ever going to do it, you sad, patronizing zit.


I am also floored that there is not just one ObiMomKenobi, and not two ObiMomKenobis, but there are at least a solid thirteen ObiMomKenobis out there.  Will punders never cease?

brundlefly
brundlefly

@ObiMomKenobi13 I feel like this comment should be screengrabbed and used as a representative exmample of "nonsensical internet outrage."

JefWithOneF
JefWithOneF topcommenter

@ObiMomKenobi13 You can't worship anything but a story, because only a story transcends reality. 

JefWithOneF
JefWithOneF topcommenter

@drusilla.grey I like that. It reminds me of the Mako/Lifeforce cut scene from Final Fantasy VII... which always did feel kind of Sagan-y now that I think about it. 

JefWithOneF
JefWithOneF topcommenter

@to.the.nerd Thank you! It was a hard thing to write, but I felt it was an important moment to share. 

JefWithOneF
JefWithOneF topcommenter

@ms.melissahunter I also call her Peanut, Little Bit, Small Child, and when she's being bossy, Tiny Hitler ;)

JefWithOneF
JefWithOneF topcommenter

@Hanabi-chan Sorry for the make-up ruin. I do try to speak to her as an adult. I never really bought into the concept of dumbing anything down unless she says she doesn't understand. 

fourtythieves
fourtythieves

@Linda Hardy if you don't have something nice to say you shouldn't say anything at all

JefWithOneF
JefWithOneF topcommenter

@sg.alxndr Thanks. it wasn't easy to write. Glad is resonated so much, 

pungal5
pungal5

My family never dumbed down anything when we were kids. I am pushing 50 and more grateful every day for that.

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