Disney Pixar's Soul is an invitation to talk with children





I read a post from someone about the Disney Pixar movie Soul. She emphatically stated it was not for children. I think what she meant to say was that it wasn't for her children. Because she is uncomfortable talking about Death and believes that children should be shielded from it.





Like most Pixar movies, there is a story and one-liners that engage young viewers. There is also stuff nestled in that story and other one-liners that can only be appreciated with more life experience than young people have.


Soul was something The Boy and I both enjoyed. Not in our top ten, but worthy of our time. Worthy of our time because it started conversations we don't usually have. We talked about souls.


We talk about Death and Grief waaaay more than most families do. They are central to my life and how I show up in the world. The Boy has come with me to countless cemeteries while I photograph grave markers for families. He's seen the photographs of the children I've photographed receiving hospice care. He's come with me to bring art supplies and activities to kids that live in the hospital.


We bury the animals we find dead in our forest. He came to help me provide hospice care for my grandmother. He's been to so many funerals and viewings. He was in the room when Rhys and Conan died. He was outside with Arden when she died under her favorite laurel. He helped me dig Moira's grave. And when he was weeks old, he rested against my chest as I sobbed over Sophie's 900 pound body.


I don't back up from those conversations with him. I don't use euphemisms. There isn't any "passing on," "going to sleep," or "going to a better place." I am direct and frank, and adults that have overheard me have been appalled, believing that I am poisoning or abusing him.


I remember how I felt when I was young and adults skirted around or tried to cover up things because they judged that was best for me. Looking back, I appreciate their intentions and respect that they were doing adult things and making decisions they believed were beneficial. Some of the things I recall being said or even more importantly, not being said, did more harm that good in the long run because I didn't have the opportunities to process things. I didn't have safe spaces to explore stuff and become acquainted with hard things like Death and Grief. No one wanted to talk about it.


I also respect The Boy's, and all children's, inherent curiosity and desire to make meaning. Something I know is possible through experience and information. I don't foist things on him; when he asks questions, I answer. If he happens to be with me in a difficult circumstance, I will explain as much as I can and let him know what might happen so he knows I am there for him and it's safe for him to ask questions.


Kids have questions about souls. They want to know what happens when a body stops working - when someone dies. How does a body die? What happens after Death? What are the things that our family or our culture practices to mark these moments and connect with each other?


In our family, we talk about dead family members. We use "dead," "dying," and "death." We talk about how confusing and weird Grief is. We have monthly memorials for the animals I've come to love through my work.


I know Death can be intimidating. It's like, totally final and stuff, you know? I know Grief can be overwhelming and terrifying. And I know most adults didn't have, and don't have, the support to help them make sense of it all and view these things as natural, unavoidable parts of life - instead they've done everything they can to avoid them.


When I know something is coming, I want to be ready. I want to prepare. I mean, that makes a lot of sense. And if I see something coming, I want The Boy to be as prepared as he can be. We can't ever shield ourselves from Death and Grief with preparation, but we can be ready to engage with it. We can collect tools, support, and other resources we anticipate we might need.


That's what this is about. I want him to feel like he can endure a loved one's Death and be with Grief. I want him to know he can talk to me about it, or not. I want him to know he can dive into art or climb trees or hide in a blanket fort, and all of that is normal and appropriate. I've found it much harder to process this stuff when I am surrounded by people who refuse to acknowledge it, and if I can help him build the skills and experience that make this part of life less intimidating and terrifying, I will do that.