Though my partner and I avoided conversations about death with my daughter, we weren't able to avoid the topic eventually. I remember the day when things finally came to a head and it had to be dealt with.
When, in my daughter's presence, several people had spoken about the likelihood of me dying --you'd be surprised how many thoughtless people there are in the world--she came to me all worried and asked me about whether it was true. I decided to pretend as if the possibility of this had never occurred to me before. I acted like it really, really scared me and then I told her, "Wait a minute, if I could die from cancer, there's probably a whole lot of other things that might kill me, too!"
I told her that we'd better stop using forks, because we might accidentally put it too far down our throats and stab ourselves to death and we'd better stop eating anything solid because we could get a piece of food stuck in our air passage and suffocate and we'd better not use any paint brushes or crayons or pencils because we might slip and fall on one of them and impale ourselves and I went on and on and on.
She quickly got tired of me freaking out and told me that nobody dies from that stuff. I said, "Yeah, but it could happen! I mean, it is possible! Oh, I'm gonna die! I'm gonna die! I'm gonna die!"
I remember seeing her eyebrows knitted together as she fussed at me and said, "Look! It's not going to happen! Okay?" I told her that I wasn't taking any chances and I put my hands on my forehead and started walking around in circles lamenting the fact that I must be about to die.
She yelled at me and yanked my hand. "Sit down! Just wait right here! Okay? I'm coming right back." After a minute, she returned with something behind her back and she demanded that I close my eyes. When she told me I could open them, she was sitting on the floor, using a crayon. She said, "See! Nothing happened!"
I replied, "Nothing happened to you but if I use it, I might die." That got her really aggravated. By the way, there's nothing in the world that's cuter than watching a six year old child trying to explain to an adult that they are being completely irrational.
So, while I'm still pretending to freak out, she says "Arghh! Look! Remember what Ms. Merianne said? Stop, breath, and think!" This was the strategy her preschool teacher taught them for dealing with situations that make you angry or upset. The irony was that she always seemed to forget about Ms. Merianne's advice whenever I wanted her to remember it.
I took a few deep breathes and asked, "I guess I don't have to be afraid of everything that might happen, do I?"
"No! So, just calm down!", she replied sharply, and that was the end of that. From that point on, whenever she heard someone saying something about me and cancer and dying, she'd give them the nastiest glare imaginable and point out that they could die of all sorts of things, too, but that didn't mean they were about to die right then.
Hey, I can't say we handled things perfectly, but it worked for us.