A Letter to Our Neighbour: I’m Sorry About The Weird Thing My 3-Year-Old Said

By Nelle Myrica Donaldson

Dear Betsy,

Understanding that you are an intellectual person with perspective to match your years and presumably an evolved attitude toward mortality, I nonetheless feel badly about yesterday afternoon. With this note I hope to offer some context for your 3-year-old neighbour’s less-than-charming no sequitur, “My mama said you might die before someone else I know.” He was undoubtably in mind of a conversation between he and I that went about like this:

[He and his dad had previously come across a dead skunk on a bike ride.]

He asked: Do skunks die because they are very old?

Sometimes. I think sometimes they get hit by cars.

When I grow up I am not going to get very old and die.

Well, Sweetie, everyone dies; dying is part of living. Actually, though, one of the best ways to go is to get very old first. Growing old means you’ve had a chance to live a lot.

I’m not going to get VERY old.

Do you know anyone who is VERY old?


Well, Betsy is 93-years-old. A lot of people would consider that to be VERY old… And remember, that just means that she’s already done a lot of living.

Is Betsy going to die?

Well, maybe before some other people you know, but not today and not tomorrow. Betsy has been alive such a good long time so far because she lives well and takes care to stay healthy and strong. My hope for you is that you live well and stay healthy and strong, so that you WILL grow to be very old.

Well, I’m not going to die.


So, I’m doing my best with these types of conversations-trying to balance sincerity with keeping things somewhere-short-of-terrifying. I hope you don’t mind being used as a real-life example/role model; and I’m so sorry that my child expressed his concern about your continued existence in a way that may have, understandably, felt awkward or poorly timed.

With Love;


Nelle Myrica Donaldson is a writer living Berkeley, CA with her husband and three children. Her academic interests and expertise are in biology, psychology and anthropology, and she enjoys writing about the human experience through the lenses of parenting, science, and speculative fiction. www.nelledonaldson.com
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