Ever since our fish died. death has been a trigger around here. When playing along, all of the sudden, Andy's toys die. He'll be rolling along in a little narrative (very difficult to follow because he still does not speak clearly) and suddenly, he'll come out with. "Oh, but he died. He's dead." Joey is playing nicely, or talking about numbers or something, when suddenly he comes out, "y fish died." Andy runs down to check the fish in the middle of the night. We haven't told them Henri is gone; we noted that sometimes he hides in the little statues in the fish tank, and have let the matter drop. Extensive conversations on the topic have yet to turn out well. Toys also kill each other, or "died" each other, only to come back and "get better." We talk about death, separation, the permanence of death, the moving along of life and the natural aspects of death in life. We try to keep it simple all the same. I even pulled out a Mr. Rogers episode about a dead bird, trying to give them a safe discussion. We watched Charlotte's Web. When it pops up and causes anxiety, the usual modes for diffusing anxiety just don't seem to be working.
Death is one of topics that mythology works best for, but when you have a child who prefers tangibles to metaphor, myth is not the best tool for communicating an idea. So we stick to the tangibles: the fish were here, and we loved them and took good care of them. Now they are gone, and we miss them. We will think about them, and remember them, and we can still love them. This seems to be the most help when the spiral begins.
Its still a little bit of a shocker when you are going along in a conversation, and suddenly the topic of the conversation is "He died. But he's OK now."