How to answer a child’s questions about death

Right after sex and the alt-right movement, death is one of the most difficult matters to explain to a child. Here are some questions you may get and some sample answers in reference to a dead Uncle Bob. Remember, the answers you give may be different, so do not read these word for word to the child unless your dead person is also Uncle Bob.

1. Where’s Uncle Bob?
Uncle Bob is dead.

2. What is dead?
Dead is when you stop breathing.

3. I can hold my breath.
That is not a question, but I’ll answer it anyways. If you were to hold your breath for a long time you would die. Just like Uncle Bob.

4. Is Uncle Bob being punished by God?
No. Uncle Bob did not believe in God. Too bad for Bob, because God believed in him. So now Bob is in hell with the devil and eternal fires.

5. Why is Bob in that box?
Bob is in that plain box because he could not afford the metal one with the stainless steel. Bob was a bad planner and spent his money on booze and women. Daddy wishes he could have the plain box.

6. No, why is he in that box and not moving?

He’s dead. I thought we covered that in #1.

7. No, why is he out so we can see him?
Uncle Bob is being displayed so that people can say their last good-byes. In a little while, they will shut the box and bury the box in the ground.

8. Why do we put people in the ground?
Dead people can come back as zombies and it is best to lock them up and stick them as far as possible under the earth. Remember, only a head shot can take out a zombie.  Don’t try to light them on fire. You can also hit them with a guitar.

9. Mom said Uncle Bob was going to be cremated.
Oh shit. You are right. He’ll get stuffed in the flames, crackle, crackle, crackle, then they give us a handful of ashes, which we can pretend are his.

10. Was that last line a complete rip off from the Monty Python “Undertaker” sketch?
Yes. Your Uncle Bob loved Python. And scotch.

11. What are all these rocks with the writing on them?
Those are called tombstones. They are overpriced chunks of marble so that we can remember that we outlived Uncle Bob. You’ll note that Uncle Bob’s tombstone looks like everyone else’s and we are bound to spend countless hours searching around for it so that your mother can swap out the flowers.

12. Why is everyone crying?
Uncle Bob owed a lot of people a lot of money. This funeral ain’t cheap either.

13. You didn’t like Uncle Bob, did you?
It’s not polite to say bad things about the dead.

14. Will I die?
Someday, yes. But not for a long time. You’ll spend years of your life, trudging and plodding and scraping by. You’ll get married and have kids and retire. Then one day you'll ask yourself "why?" Then you'll impatiently wait for death to come to your doorstep.

15. Which is harder to explain: death, sex or neoconservatism?
Sex, then neoconservatism and then death. In that order.

16. Why do people have to die?
People have to die so that the cigarette companies can make more money. At least that's what I read somewhere.

17. Did Bonkers die?
No, Bonkers ran away. And let's stick with the Uncle Bob theme.

18. What if Uncle Bob wakes up and he is under ground?
Good question. Uncle Bob is really, really dead. But just in case, all bodies are buried with a cell phone and five free minutes. I hope this cemetery isn't outside of our calling area.

19. Are you going to try to stretch this out to an even twenty questions?

John Glenn’s Space Peaches

I met John Glenn.  It was during the 1992 election when Clinton was running against the senior George Bush. I was working for Lyon Video and they had a satellite uplink.  Glenn was a Senator in Ohio and was campaigning for Clinton.  He was going to be interviewed by some cable channel. I put his mic on.  It’s the closest to orbit I will ever get. 

A few years later, I was working for COSI, a science museum in Columbus.  We built a display case for John Glenn’s artifacts in an exhibit about space.  Due to poor planning, the artifacts were lit with incandescent MR16 bulbs.  The small spaces they were displayed in turned into Easy Bake Ovens and the artifacts were cooked.  One of those artifacts was an aluminum toothpaste tube of peaches.  I knew they were peaches because there was a typewriter written label on the tube that said, “PEACHES.”  There was also a plastic tube that would screw into the top of the aluminum tube that would break the seal and allow those sweet, sweet peaches to go into John’s gullet.  The heat from the light caused the peaches to expand and blow out the bottom of the toothpaste tube.  When we were alerted to the problem (challenge) we cut power, extracted the artifacts from the case and sent it out to get fiber optic lighting.  Because the peaches were homeless, I decided to give them a home in my work desk drawer.

Time passes.

At some point, that display case was upgraded to fiber optic lighting.  The artifacts were replaced and all was well. Except the peaches remained in my office drawer. Mostly to the back, but not so much so that I didn’t see them at least once a week.  The tiny squirt of space peaches sneaking out the bottom was frozen in physics, sneakily within the recesses of my drawer. I knew they were there, but no one asked about them and I wasn’t about to say anything.

About a year later, I got a call, “Do you have John Glenn’s peaches?”


“Do you?”

“Yes. They are right here.”
“Could we have them back?”
Of course you can. Of course. I returned them and they were placed back into the display.

And that was the end...

How dare you! How dare you ask if I tasted the peaches? The peaches that had broken the surly bonds of earth. The peaches that survived space but didn’t survive a week in a poorly designed, overheated cabinet. How dare you!

They were sweet, my friend. They were sweet.

Thank you, John Glenn. Thank you.