Talking to Kids about Death

This morning, I had to share with the kids that a family member’s pet had died.  They were sad, as they had loved this pet, but they took it pretty well.  I wonder if this is because it wasn’t their pet, they are familiar with death, or a combination of both.

The kids are no strangers to having someone they love pass on.  Their favorite uncle, my husband’s brother, died when they were two and four.  They still talk about him–how much they loved him, how much fun they had together, how he was sick and went to live with God.  Sometimes they are a little sad, especially J, who was older and remembered him better.  They love to hear stories about their uncle.  One of their favorites is when he stayed with us when S was born.  Because my husband had to work, a friend stayed with J and my brother-in-law picked S and me up from the hospital.  First, we had to wait 45 minutes for discharge because the nurse kept forgetting about me.  He was the voice of reason, telling me not to panic, that we’d eventually get out of there.  Then, on the way home, he drove under the speed limit the whole way because he didn’t want to do anything that would endanger his new niece.  He said it was because he was afraid of what I’d do to him if he got in an accident with the baby in the car; I knew better.

The kids’ experience with death is very different from my own.  No one close to me died until I was in college.  I had two great-grandparents die, but I didn’t know them well.  They were old and it just seemed sort of like the cycle of life to me.  My dad’s father died when I was about 16, but I didn’t know him well, either.  At that point, I had only ever seen my father’s parents a handful of times in my entire life.  Having someone I knew well, and loved, die was a shock to my system.

When something happens now, I don’t shy away from talking to the kids.  I see no point in lying to “protect” them.  There is no pretending:  People and pets die.  At the same time, I do my best to leave room for them to be sad, to ask questions, to talk about things as they need to.  I had hoped the kids would be older before they had to deal with something like this, but reality is unavoidable.  I can only hope that the way we handled it as parents was appropriate and helped them process and understand their grief.

Have you had to talk to your kids about death and dying?  How have you handled it?


2 thoughts on “Talking to Kids about Death

  1. I’ve not had a conversation with my step-daughter about death. Hmmm… I wonder if I should? She’ll be 15 next month.

    I’m sorry about your husband’s brother. I knew him briefly and liked him a lot. And I wondered about him periodically over the years, before you andI reconnected online.

    • Yeah, B was pretty cool. He was a fantastic uncle. The right mix of fun and authoritative. He always threatened that he would take J for his first body piercing (not ears) and/or tattoo. I believe he was serious. 🙂 I have been told that in order to “fit in” with my in-laws’ family, there were only two people I needed to please: B and my FIL’s mother. Not sure how I managed it, but somehow I did both. If you ever met my FIL’s mother, you would completely understand. (I love her, by the way, she is just…difficult.)

      B passed away in 2007. He had a stroke due to his hemophilia, although he had been in seriously declining health for several years.

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