Talking to kids about death

talking about death to kidsThe morning Lily Rose was diagnosed with Leishmania and her fate sealed, Georgie was at summer school. The house was quiet aside from my wailing. For a few moments I was able to pretend that nothing and no one else existed in the world. I was able to ignore the aftermath of her death and zero in on my emotions, my loss. For just a few moments though because soon I would have to face a little boy and explain what death means. I would have to help him deal with HIS loss.

There was little time and energy to prepare our explanations. I kept saying to papa that the one and only thing I knew for certain was that Georgie must be told the truth. Lily Rose died. She didn’t go somewhere else to live, she is not coming back and we are incredibly sad. We lay down the facts for him, answered all the questions we knew the answers to and hoped for the best. Here’s what we learned about loss and kids:

It’s OK to be sad: We are always very open and communicative with Georgie so both papa and I did not attempt to hide our tears and raw emotions from him. Kids should know that it is OK to be sad and cry when experiencing loss. It’s cathartic and there’s hope that this will also discourage feelings of fear about death.

Find a cosy spot and talk: One thing I regret doing on that day was telling Georgie before we even got home. When I went to pick him up and saw him running happily towards me with his bag swinging from side to side, my emotions grabbed me and shook me so hard I burst into tears as soon as we got in the car. I can’t imagine the shock of being told something devastating so abruptly at such as young age. That afternoon, papa and I sat down with Georgie and we talked. To our relief it was a short talk until much later when more questions came. Again we were direct about why she died and why she cannot be here with us.

Don’t be surprised by their reaction: Georgie cried immediately after I blurted out the words. My own tears may have triggered his because it is the first time Georgie had experienced a loss within the family so how could he possibly know how to react, right? One minute later he was asking me if we could visit papa at his office. When I replied ‘yes’ he proceeded to clap and smile.

No euphemisms: Some members of our family were shocked to hear Georgie saying ‘Lily Rose is dead’. Honestly, I have no idea why but for some reason they thought it would be better to use words such as ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘went away’. Children take things literally so using euphemisms such as these will only make them fearful of falling asleep or of someone going away. I believe Georgie was able to process Lily’s death because we avoided these euphemisms.

Making up stories is OK but be realistic: As I mentioned above, we told Georgie that Lily Rose would not be coming back. We are not religious therefore telling Georgie that she was in heaven and that we would see her again was not an option. Instead we told him that she now lives in the sky, among the stars (like Moufasa in The Lion King), she sees us and protects us and will always be with him even though she is not physically here. That brought on the question of how did she go up into the sky in the first place. “Did a magic bus come and pick her up?”

Remember kids can make you laugh out loud. Their minds are fresh, unspoiled and prone to positivity so let them guide you in difficult moments. I hope this information is helpful to anyone in a similar situation. Any other useful advice is always welcome.



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1 Comment

  • Reply Alexia October 7, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    Great post. Good way of handling it! Impressed. Honesty always best.

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