For many parents talking about death to our kids is a tough subject, that's probably why many of our first experience of death is a beloved goldfish or hamster.
Luckily, sometimes a piece of media comes along and so perfectly encapsulates what we are trying to say round a tricky subject that it does the hard work for you.
For me it's the 2017 Disney Pixar film Coco.
Coco centres around a boy named Miguel and his family in Mexico who are celebrating the Mexican holiday ‘Dia de Muertos’ (or the day of the dead).
It’s important to remember that this day is more of a celebration than a mourning, and it involves friends and family gathering together to reflect and reminisce about the deceased.
Straight away we learn that this animated movie intended for a younger audience focuses on some pretty mature topics such as life and death, with a focus on old age and dementia through main character Mamá Imelda, Miguel’s cherished grandmother.
Even as an adult, watching Coco is bound to make you shed a tear (or you could just say you’ve been cutting some onions), as the multi-generational story explores family relationships and the loss of loved ones.
The story takes place in both the land of the living and the land of the dead, as we follow young Miguel’s dream of becoming a successful musician like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz.
Without giving away too many spoilers, Miguel finds himself magically transported to the beautiful and colourful land of the dead, where he sets off on a journey with trickster Hecktor to find out the real history behind his own family.
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There’s one bit that’ll really get you, though. When in the land of the dead, Miguel encounters one of the deceased, who begins to shake and slowly disappears. Confused, Miguel asks “where has he gone?” His friend replies “he is being forgotten, no one knows where people go when they have been forgotten.”
That part is bound to get you right in the feels, and is a particularly strong metaphor for afterlife - especially for young children. The character basically disappears, and never comes back, which is a real and raw introduction to death for kids, that’s for sure.
In this day and age, kids are often gripped by the concept of death and the mysteriousness that surrounds it, which is why this colourful movie is a great way of explaining what really happens once a family or friend passes away. There’s a difference between being brutal and being honest to your children, and Pixar’s Coco is a great way of revealing the somewhat harsh (but realistic truth.)
It’s not all doom and gloom though, the brightness of the animation and celebrations throughout the movie show that the Mexican culture puts a positive spin on death - it lets children celebrate a life, enjoy the good food, and spend time with family on ‘Dia de Muertos’.
We’re all guilty of putting an element of fear in death, refusing to tell children what has really happened to an individual, telling them that they’re “away” or “sleeping” and to be honest, it’s only going to lead to more questions and more confusion.
The afterlife in the movie Coco is depicted as beautiful and colourful, a party with skeletons dancing around and having a great time. It’s a beautiful film that emphasises the importance of remembering your deceased loved ones, and celebrating their lives - because it’s what they would’ve wanted, right?
Granted, it’s not easy explaining to a child what has happened when they have lost someone close to them, but this film provides a very visual representation of death to make it easier for children to empathise with the main characters and their situations.
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