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Tough Talks Part 2: Death, Heaven and Other Heavy Thoughts

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Fredo. Bubbles. Princess Fishy-Fish. All were names of our pet fish that have gone to the large fishbowl in the sky. Now, Finners seems to be on his last legs. Kiddo does okay with this subject when it comes to fish, but there have been some nights (don't these always come at night?) that she has asked about me or her daddy or other family members and death.

It isn't easy for grown-ups to think about -- and that is something to share with your kids as talks about death and dying come up. It's great to point out you feel sad when someone has died or your thoughts about Heaven and that it is a tough thing for everyone, but there are ways to discuss it so that they don't feel fearful or more upset.

-- Be careful with your wording when you talk about someone dying. Avoid comparing it to going to sleep or that when people get sick, they die...both may confuse your child and start some anxiety about getting sick or bedtime. If someone or a pet is sick, be sure to talk about it and why it is different than getting a cold or the stomach flu. This also helps prepare them for what is to come.

-- Keep it simple: explain that the person who dies will not be able to talk or play with them any more, won't eat or breathe, but that they will always "live" in our memories and our hearts. Talk to your husband, partner, caregiver, and others around your child so you are all on the same page about what you are saying about an afterlife and so on.

-- Be honest with your feelings. By saying that you are really sad and that you may be crying, it allows your children to understand that is okay to be sad as well. Also recognize your children may grieve in an unexpected way, from being happy that Grandma is now with Grandpa in heaven (if he had passed years before) to asking more scientific questions (like what happens to the body, do worms eat it, and so on). They are just processing it in their own way.

-- Younger children may not "get" the finality of death, and that is okay. Be prepared to answer questions maybe weeks and even months later, asking when the person that has died will come and visit. This may bring up tough feelings for you, but remember they do not understand the concept yet. Older kids may think that they can "change" death, like using magical thinking or wishing to have Fluffy the pet cat not be dead anymore. All of these times are chances to talk about death and reassure your child they are safe and okay.

-- Always end conversations about death or dying by telling your children that they are safe and that they can always talk to you about it. It is okay to say you don't really know why people die, but point out that the person or pet that has died had a good life and we were so lucky to have memories and their everlasting love.

Have you had to explain death to your children? What happened when you talked about it with them?


by on Mar. 8, 2012 at 12:00 AM
Replies (11-20):
by on Mar. 9, 2012 at 5:38 PM

I'm not ready. I thought I was going to have to talk about it a few weeks ago when my mom had a heart attack, but thank God she got better. 

by New Member on Mar. 10, 2012 at 2:31 AM

     My boys lost their papa to cancer almost 8 months ago. We knew it was coming and I am thankful for having that time to prepare my children and my husband along with myself prepared for the loss. There were many tear filled nights but it is remarkable how resiliant children are. We write messages on helium balloons and send them to heaven once a month and they find great comfort in being able to send their love to papa.

by Sarah on Mar. 10, 2012 at 2:49 PM

When my father passed in 2010 I told my son that Grandpa's heart got really sick and he went to live with God and the angels in Heaven.  DS was 2 1/2 at the time.

by Nikki on Mar. 12, 2012 at 9:12 AM

Thankfully this topic has not come up for us yet.

by on Mar. 12, 2012 at 9:21 AM

My dd has been through so many deaths. Grandpa Grandpa, Uncle, 3 cats, 1 guinea pig, 1 dog, and countless fish, bugs... I told her we wouldn't see them anymore. We do visit the cemetery where Grandpa Grandpa is. Our talks are all over the place because I'm atheist and she's not.

by Member on Mar. 12, 2012 at 9:39 AM

 Yes we had to explain to them when my grandma passed. It was so hard.

by Member on Mar. 12, 2012 at 11:04 AM

Yes, I've had this conversation with our 4 year old son. Sadly, his aunt (my brother's wife) died of lung cancer in January. So we had to have a talk about why he would no longer be able to go see his aunt anymore. The tips you give are great, I did some research on the subject before talking to him and that's what I came up with also. I know that he doesn't understand what happened to his aunt and that's ok. Maybe someday he will understand. I hope he does before something happens to his grandpa (he lives with us and has health issues).

I'm thankful for a hubby that loves me, 4 healthy children, a warm
place to sleep and enough food for our meals... God bless America!

by Member on Mar. 12, 2012 at 11:09 AM

Yes I had to when her Dad died and never came back ... she was very young we just keep his memory going in our lives, she has every right to know about this great man :-)  she is ok with all the family .

by on Mar. 12, 2012 at 11:23 AM

It's so hard to explain, once you get started they have more and more questions and I'm not equipped to answer them.  Sometimes I just have to tell them that I don't know the answer.  But our kitty died a couple of months ago.  It was really hard on our daughter (8).

by on Mar. 12, 2012 at 11:37 AM

 My husband's grandfather died. We explained how he went to heaven.

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