When Did You First Understand Death?

My son’s friend’s great-grandfather died recently. Of course, it had to happen right around his friend’s birthday party, and I had to tell my son that the party would be postponed. I wasn’t sure that he’d understand, since he’s only four, but he seemed to accept that it was a good reason to cancel a party. Even since then, he’s been asking me tons of questions about death. He doesn’t get very upset by my answers, so I suspect that he doesn’t yet fully understand that death is forever and that it really will happen to me and his father and even him one day. I guess that’s only natural for his age, and to be honest I’d think a four year old walking around knowing he’ll die one day would be rather sad.

This got me to thinking about when I first truly realized that one day I would die and that it wouldn’t necessarly be of old age. I was about fifteen years old when a lady I’d babysat for, a good friend of the family, died giving birth to her third son. She was quite young, in her early thirties, and it came as a complete shock to everybody. She was so beautiful and full of life, her children loved her so much, I just couldn’t believe that she, of all people, was dead. When it finally sank in that this was real and she was gone, that’s when I realized that I could die too.

I was wondering, is this how it happens to everybody? Somebody close to you dies, and that’s how you understand that this is unavoidable?

Well, I had a good first hand experience with death when my 22 year old sister was killed in a car wreck when I was 13. I don’t think I quite grasped that I could die until the last few years, though. At least, it’s been bugging me a lot more the last few years. For the first time in my life, things like riding my bicycle along a road worries me - I think “Geez, it would be SO easy for a car to hit me!” Stuff like that never used to even pop into my head. Now it seems that it does all the time.

You mean eventually I’ll understand it?

Yer pal,

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I think I understood death at a very young age, maybe 5 or 6. What I didn’t get was how much it hurt to lose someone close to you until I was in high school and a good friend died. Not sure if that was part of the “understanding” you were asking about.

“How’d you get your mind to tilt like your hat?”

-The Thrashing Doves

I have dealt with death so many times I think I’ve lost count, but I will never understand it. I now just keep in mind that of every death, becomes an angel to watchover me.

We are, each of us angels with only one wing,and we can only fly by embracing one another

Not sure about “understanding” death, but I read “How We Die” shortly after my husband died, and it helped me with the mechanics of death. Very comforting book, by the way.

And when my husband died, that’s probably when I first realized that yep, it can and will happen to me too. The impossible becomes unlikely, becomes possible, happens.

I grasped the concept of death around the age of 5. My parents were well into middle age when they had my sister and I, so our grandparents died when we were quite young.

Anecdotal stuff: my folks didn’t take me to funerals when I was really little. When I was 5, a friend and neighbor was killed in a plane crash. My parents debated greatly on whether I was old enough to attend, but decided that since the funeral would be so large we could just sit in the back.

And so it happened. The funeral home was packed to overflowing with mourners. My mom kept me a careful distance from the (open) casket, and headed us into the adjoining room set up with chairs to handle the overflow crowd.

Everyone rustled and settled in…then mom noticed an open casket beside us, with an old lady laid out in it. The overflow room was already “occupied”. I mainly remember mom having a silent cow, while I envied the old lady for being able to sleep through the service.

That said, the whole concept seemed and still seems slightly impossible: the world going on and somehow not being here.


I suppose I was about 13.
My oldest son however(now almost 13), had to learn about death in a very unfortunate way at the tender age of 5. My uncle decided to take him to a movie to reward his first kindergarten report card. (This uncle-my mother’s brother- was the closest person to me, closer than my father,even closer than my mother,- actually to me,my son, my sisters, a very loved man) To make a long story short, he felt ill, tried to drive himself to the hospital, about 5 miles away, had a heart attack and died while driving down a major highway in NJ. The car crossed the median and opposing traffic and crashed into some trees. My son saw the entire thing, he watched my uncle die, with very graphic detail he described this to me.(I didn’t ask) My son was alright(physically) outside of a broken leg which healed nicely. Emotionally he was in shock for a couple days. For at least a year after that, upon passing a cemetary, or other events that would bring the situation of death, he was insatiably curious, Almost infatuated, with death, the dying process, etc. He received counseling for about a year and a half and is now a wonderful young man. I still cry to this day thinking of what that must have been like for him.

so you found a girl who thinks really deep thoughts. what’s so amazing about really deep thoughts? Tori Amos