Out of the mouths of babes
Son (annoyed, upset shouting): Dad! Dad, it’s not working anymore!
Father (walking out back door): Let me have a look.
Son: It won’t work, Dad, fix it.
Father: That’s a beetle, it looks dead to me.
Son: It was working, it won’t work anymore. What’s dead, Dad?
Father: If you push a beetle too hard, you can hurt it enough until you kill it.
Son: What’s dead?
Father: All living creatures die eventually. Creatures are born, then they grow up until they get old then they die. Sometimes they die if they get sick or hurt. Like that beetle.
Son (puzzled, thoughtful expression): Oh.
Scene 2: Son’s bedroom 2 days later.
Father (walking into son’s bedroom): J, what’s the matter, why are you crying?
Son (sobbing quietly): I don’t want to die.
Father (kneeling and putting arm around son): You aren’t going to die, what makes you say that?
Son: You said that all creatures die.
Father (sensing a tricky situation): Yes, I did. But you aren’t old or very sick. People live a long time before they die.
Son (less sobbing but not convinced): Are you going to die?
Father: Yes, we all have to die one day but not for a long time yet.
Son: You are old, I don’t want you to die.
Father: Not that old, I’m still not going to die for a very long time.
Son (holding father tightly): I don’t want any of us to die. Not you or Mommy or me.
Father: Don’t worry, J, none of us is going to die for a very, very long time.
Scene 3: Six months later. Father (A), mother (E) and son (J) are sitting a bedroom at an old age home in Vredehoek visiting an old family friend (S).
S: It’s teatime, let’s go to the sitting room. A, will you help me get up please?
S is helped out of bed and puts out her arm.
S: Thanks, A. E, let me hold on to your arm.
All leave the room and walk very slowly down the corridor. S and E, S holding on to E’s arm, are ahead. They are chatting to each other. A and son, hand in hand, are walking a few paces behind.
Son: Dad, when can we go home?
Father: Shhh, J, we’ll go home after tea.
Son (raising his voice): S, when are you going to die?
Father (crushing son’s hand and frowning angrily): Shhhhhhhhhh!
Son (pained look, eyes filling with tears): Ow, that hurts, Dad!
How it all ended:
S was a bit hard of hearing and was engaged in conversation with E at the time so it was very unlikely that she'd heard the question. A felt a bit of a bastard having crushed his son's hand like that but it seemed to be the only way of stopping a barrage of death-related questions. Later, going out to the car, he tried to explain that other people, especially old, sick people, are also very sensitive about death, just as J was, and that it wasn't good manners to ask them questions like that.
S died about a year later.