I’ll bundle my cherubs off to kindy and school today, and spend the day chatting with other little cherubs, some who are scared, some who are sad, some who are angry. These innocent, open minds, ready to take on the world. They feel all the feels, and sometimes not being in a good place, they do things that perhaps in hindsight might not have been the best idea. They might hurt someone, they might say something they shouldn’t have, they might act out. But when sitting and chatting, they can often see where they went wrong, we work together to help them feel better about themselves and to move on. When I see these children, I see little dudes and dudettes who have the world at their feet, their eyes bright and wide, excited for what the future holds. I don’t hold their actions against them permanently, I see that they are learning and changing.
Some 20-25 years ago, those bright eyes belonged to Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. While hard to fathom for some now, they were once young children, with dreams of a big future ahead of them. We don’t know the reasons how or why they fell into the nasty trade that they did, but I can guarantee you that this current state wasn’t in either of their life plans. As they sit in isolation, taking in their last breaths, running through their final moments. Hands wringing, waiting, wondering, do they think back to those bright eyed times? Maybe they wanted to be firefighters? Or race car drivers? I try to put myself in their position and I can’t. I can’t fathom it. The pure psychological trauma of waiting to die. After being rehabilitated. After a decade of growth and change.
I know we all have our opinions on them. We all think we know the why’s and the how’s. Some feel they deserve what’s coming. Others, myself included, struggle to understand how this can happen in such a barbaric manner, after they’ve been rehabilitated. Killing them won’t stop the drug trade. It doesn’t save lives. Because guess what? Those people taking drugs? They choose to do so. The smugglers and dealers aren’t shoving it into them. And if they don’t get it from one dealer, they’ll quickly find another. It’s insidious, and I’ve had first-hand, personal experience watching family go through addiction, and have seen how it’s torn people apart. So I guess I could be angry about people trying to smuggle drugs. But I know they’re not the answer. They’re not the end of the food chain.
How do we explain this to our kids? What can we say to them about this situation? Of course we don’t want to expose our children to such graphic ideas such as the death penalty, and I think we parents try our darndest to shield children from having to grapple with the concept of death for as long as possible, but this story is saturated throughout the media. We’re all talking about it, at home, at the park, at the shops. If your child does hear/see anything about this story, and wants to know about death or the death penalty, here are some tips that might be helpful:
- Ask them what they know about death/death penalty?
- Be as honest as appropriate with them. I.e. ‘when we die, our bodies no longer work, our heart stops beating. We can no longer see or touch people who have died’.
- If they are asking about the death penalty, provide some basic facts on what it is, and why some countries have it while others don’t.
- Try to use the words ‘death’ and ‘dead’ as opposed to ‘gone to sleep’ to avoid confusion.
- Repetition is ok. Sometimes it takes a few rounds of the same conversation to help them process and understand.
- If you don’t know the answer to their question at that point, it’s totally fine to say ‘I don’t have the answer to that right now’
- Normalise feelings of confusion, hurt, or sadness around death. Our children need to know that we all feel like that.
- If they have had any previous experience with death (i.e. death of a pet, death of a plant etc) try to link it back to that, so they can have something concrete to base the idea on.
- Reassure them that they are safe, they are loved and looked after. Sometimes kids can worry that everyone will die around them at the drop of a hat. Or that they might die themselves.
While this story might be remote to them, if someone close dies, then they may also churn through the rollercoaster that is grief. The Seven Stages of Grief by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is a great starting point.
Death is a normal part of life. But tying someone to a stake, and aiming a firing squad at them isn’t. These men were very young, when they committed their crimes. The brain doesn’t stop developing and maturing until we are at least 25. Should we all be condemned for decisions we make in our late teens and early twenties? No one is arguing that they did the wrong thing, and that their crime was heinous. But after a decade, after being rehabilitated, helping fellow inmates get off drugs, teach them art and other expressive skills, to just shoot them dead, seems like a waste. A waste of those bright eyes, who didn’t envisage this future, but were trying to salvage what they could, to make amends for a life that they would never have anticipated when they were young and full of excitement and dreams. They’re somebody’s children. Somebody’s brother. We shouldn’t forget that it could happen to any of our children. We just don’t know how things will turn out in life sometimes. Here’s hoping our kids will never have to know of this.
How does all of this leave you feeling? Do you feel these men are rehabilitated? Is the death penalty still valid in 2015?