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Advice about Death and Grieving

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Worries Big & Little > Advice about Death and Grieving


Questions about what death means Related pages Death of a family member

Explaining grandpa's death to 3 year old

Sept 2011

My 3 year old daughter's grampa died. We live in CA, and he in FL. It happened a month ago, but because the memorial wont be held until November, she doesn't really know about his death.

I'm trying to think of a way to explain that her Pop-pops isn't there any more. I have read her ''Nana Upstairs and Downstairs'' but I still don't know when or how to tie this book into the fact that Pop-pops isn't there anymore and we are going to go to his ''memorial'' (he's been cremated already, so there is no body).

We are secular, so I want to explain that he is dead/gone in terms that make sense to a 3 yr old...He died. He's in our memories. He lives within us... Can a 3 yr old digest this...?

Would appreciate feedback from secular parents. - Mom whose child will be sad...


I think you should tell you child. Perhaps start talking about memories of the grandparent. We started discussing death with our son when he was only 2 years old because he asked a lot of questions about my dad who died before he was born. When he was three another relative and a pet died. We used a book about a cat called Barney when the cat died. We focus on the fact that when you remember someone they live in your heart or are still with you in your heart. He is now four and likes to say that we have 4 cats -- 3 that live in our house and 1 that lives in our hearts. I am a pagan and we have had made altars and had family rituals where we talk about the person or animal who has died. It think you can do that in a non-specifically religious way. I think it is helpful for him to know it is ok to remember, to be sad, and to talk about those who have passed on. And I think that death is a part of life and this gives him a way to see us dealing with our grief which I think his helpful for his emotional growth. Recently a child in his preschool died unexpectedly, not someone he knew well, and the teachers told us that he was very proactive in helping the kids talk about and express their feelings by suggesting that everyone daw pictures for the child's family. How much does he understand, seems like quite a bit to me. We have let him ask any questions he wants and to talk about death or not as he wishes. Mama who likes to talk about the beloved dead
We haven't yet dealt with a death since my kids were born - but we talk of the already dead greatgranddads as living in our memories and actions - e.g., when I built them a workbench for tools I used y granddads handmedown tools and told them that my skills and interest in tools came from their great granddad. We talk about people living in our hearts and memories. They get it. no angels here
I'm sorry for your loss. It's really tough to talk to toddlers about death. We went through a year where two grandmas and one grandpa all died -- and while it was a sad time, I really think our kids (ages 3 and 5 at the time) weathered it well. We talked about death very matter-of-factly: Grandpa's heart stopped beating. His body shut down. He can't feel anything anymore. We even explained the cremation process, with special emphasis on how it didn't hurt him because the life was out of his body. And we let the kids participate in scattering the ashes. We talked about how we feel sad that Grandpa is no longer alive. It's OK to feel sad. We miss him. We have nice memories of him, which we can share with each other often. The five-year-old even decided to speak at the memorial service. We remember Grandpa when we go sailing (an activity he loved), when we make Grandma's Easter bread, or when we hike in Grammy's favorite mountains. As hard as it was, I look back on that time as being a gift -- a precious way to start teaching my kids about the cycles of life. Although neither my husband nor I believe in heaven, my kids were really drawn to the idea -- and we talked about how no one knows exactly what happens after death, and they could make their own decisions. My older daughter likes to talk about her grandfather looking after her from heaven. Peace
Hi - I appreciate that this is hard on everyone and I'm sorry for the loss your family is facing. Regarding telling your 3 year old, I fear that that you're over-thinking it just a bit, though. There is no easy way to deliver sad news. You'll just have to stick with the simple truth and see where her questions lead you. I recommend keeping it very simple, but true. Ideas that might comfort an adult about spirits and memories living on, aren't going to do much for a 3 year old. And at three, she won't really have much of a concept of 'death' so her questions are likely to be brief. My grand-parents died 7 weeks apart from each other when my son was 5. The grandparent who died first had an open casket funeral and then was buried in the ground. The grandparent who died next was cremated. My son must have asked me 5 times, ''Where is great grandma?'' when it came time to bury the ashes. I just kept saying really matter of factly, ''She's in the box. She wanted to be cremated and that means that we burned her body after she was dead and the ashes are in the box.'' It just sounds awful when you put it that way, but he wasn't particularly upset at all. He just didn't understand why we saw great grandpa's body in the casket and saw it go in the ground and great grandma's body was nowhere in sight. Good luck - I know it's not easy. anaon
I recommend you take a look at the book entitled Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie.This sensitive book is a useful tool in explaining to children that death is a part of life and that, eventually, all living things reach the end of their own special lifetimes. Appreciating your concern.
I am very sorry for your loss. We just lost my mother-in-law and had to explain her death to our four year old son. Grandma lived on the East Coast, so he saw her mostly on Skype and then in person a few times a year.

I didn't read him any books on the topic. I took the approach of just telling him what had happened. He knew she was sick as my husband traveled to see her a lot during the last few months. He reacted as I thought he might - suggesting that we bring her to the doctor, make her some healthy food, etc. He asked a few questions and I answered them as honestly and simply as possible. He mainly asked about what she could do when she was dead - can she eat, can she sleep, can she see me. He also asked if this meant grandpa was going to die and would he die now. I answered with simple, honest responses. The hardest question was, I know she is dead, but where is she? My father-in-law told him she wasn't on earth any more, but that now she gets to be a part of the whole universe. My son seemed to like that answer.

We are also secular, so religion, God, heaven didn't enter into my responses. He is still processing it and asks about her and her death every few days, so I think this will take him some time to really understand. He obviously is thinking about it, but he doesn't seem sad, per say. I don't think he knows really to be sad yet.

We just attended her memorial service last week (one month after her death) and explained to our son that we were going to a very important memorial where we would all talk about grandma, how much we love her and how we will miss her. I told him it was important for everyone who loved her. I think he understood. He sat at the memorial reading his books in the back row, not paying attention to anything around him, but was quiet and well behaved. The memorial was a ''celebration of life'' and the tone did reflect that, for the most part.

I'm not sure if my rambling has helped at all. Best of luck to you during this difficult time. Also dealing with the loss of a grandparent


Explaining 8-y-o cousin's death to 4 year old

Sept 2007

My cousin's 8 year old son recently died in an accidental drowning. I need some advice as to how to tell my 4 year old about it. I don't intend on bringing it up myself, but I anticipate that eventually he will ask about Cousin Ryan, or someone else will bring up the subject. My son did not see his cousin regularly, but did see him once or twice a year and also has a lot of hand-me-down clothes that he knows as ''from cousin Ryan'', so it's more than just a name to him.

We've already talked about death with my son as his grandmother (my mother) passed away a year and a half ago, and we also talk about a pet that died. We've read books and my son also asks about the Beatles that died (he's on a real Beatles kick recently).

My biggest concern is that (to simplify things) when my son has previously asked things like ''when will I die? When will you die?'' we have assured him that most people only die when they get very old and sick, i.e. Mommy and Daddy will be around for a long time. I don't know how to talk about his cousin without scaring him senseless about it, when in fact it was a senseless and shocking death. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!


My son's father died when he was 20 months old, so I've been talking to him about death ever since. The key is to be truthful and to supply information at a level that the kid can understand. I told my son, in stages as he could understand, ''Daddy died, and that means we won't see him anymore. His body stopped working. Some people die of diseases, and some die of accidents. Your daddy died of a disease.'' You want to present things in such a way that it jibes with what he'll hear from other people, so he'll learn to trust you and what you've told him. My husband actually committed suicide, and I was advised that my son would eventually hear that on the playground, so he needed to hear it from me first, without shame or equivocating. He should be able to say ''I know'' instead of having it be confusing, disturbing news to him coming from someone else, even someone he doesn't know.

I personally think you SHOULD bring it up for your son first. That way you're sure he's getting it the way you want it conveyed. Also, then you'll know what he knows, and he'll be encouraged to talk about any questions he has with you.

As for his questions, about when he or you will die, this is hard, but again I think you have to be honest. Most people do die after a long life, when they get old and sick, but very rarely people die young, as Ryan did. But he shouldn't worry about himself or you, as what happened to Ryan is very rare.

You might find it useful to contact Meg Zweiback, as I did. I was so grateful to her for the age-appropriate advice she gave me at a very difficult time. anon


I'm so sorry for your loss. Children educator Bev Bos recommends that you introduce the concept of dying before someone actually dies, if possible. She recommends the book _Saying Goodbye to Molly_. It makes me cry! It is a very sweet book. I also found other wonderful books at the library. anon
Waiting until he brings it up seems exactly right to this teacher of Kindergartners. I think to help him with his very specific fears you might help him have a sense of control over his own relationship with water. Has he taken swimming lessons? If not, I would start them NOW, before the subject even comes up. Young children often relate only to the specifics - the broader understanding that random accidents happen shouldn't be information he has to hear until he is old enough to deal with it. rita
i'm so sorry for your loss. i had to explain death to my 2 year old when her father (who was not an old man) died suddenly in an accident. i liked the book ''a first look at ...death'' it is part of a ''first look at'' series. it explains that death can happen for many reasons and touches on the''spirit'' of the person. i'm sure you can find it on amazon and check it out for yourself but we really appreciated the loving yet matter of fact way that it made death seem less scary.
Get the book ''What on Earth Do You Do When Someone Dies?'' By Trevor Romain. It is written specifically for children to help them deal with questions surrounding death and to cope with grief. It is compassionate and straightforward and addresses many of the thoughts children have after someone dies. Meg

Explaining death to a toddler

Sept 2003

What advice to people have for explaining death to a toddler when for example a pet dies. In most situations I would like to explain what really happened, but I am concerned about the anxiety that could be caused by the realization that things don't live forever and the related fear that self and parents also don't live forever. So far she thinks dead things are going ni-night and I haven't corrected this. Anon


I highly reccomend checking out the following website: dougy.org. Its the website of the Dougy Center of Portland, OR and has some good books & other info about children, grief & death. The main issue with equaiting death with sleep is that for toddlers and young children they can fear going to sleep since then they may not wake up - since the child knows the dead animal/person is not waking up. Honesty is really the best policy around death. Clear, simple language - and yes, your toddler may ask if you are going to die and you can say you plan to live a long, long time. Good luck
some of this might be a little much for a dog, but my dad died suddenly when my daughter was 18-months old, and he had been very involved with her (my mom did childcare once weekly on her day off, and he always came hom early on that day so that they could take her out to eat beans and rice). we talk often about the things they did together, grandpa being in our hearts, and have always encouraged her to talk about him and to him (which she does less now that she is older). also, she has a few special things that belonged to him that are really practical (like a shoe horn, for example) which also help her stay connected as she gets older and she helped us put together a wall screen at my mom's house with pictures of grandpa throughout his life. i think it's nice to do hands-on stuff with toddlers and preschoolers that they can refer back to often. michele
We went through this back in January when my mother died of cancer and we had to explain it to my 3- and 5- year-olds (who were quite close with her). We basically explained that Gramma Carol's body died. We explained that she had been very sick and that her body couldn't get better. We also explained that it sometimes happens when people are old or sick and that they needn't worry about it. We said it was really sad that Gramma died. We told the kids that it's okay to cry and of course we would miss her, but the important thing is that Gramma would always live in our hearts because we can always remember all the wonderful loving things that she did when she lived. We talked about our favorite memories several times (and still do), which seems to reinforce to them that even though her body died, Gramma lives.

Even after eight months, my daughter, the 3-year-old (who was with Gramma right before she died and knew how happy Gramma was to see her), still pipes up with ''guess what Gramma Carol is dead'' announcements periodically out of the blue, but now she follows up with ''that's sad but she lives in our hearts.'' Her other variation is that sometimes she will say ''I'm sad that Gramma Carol died'' but now she remembers to add ''but I'm happy that Gramma Carol lived.'' As possible and appropriate, we try to focus on living, since that is an easier concept for the kids to grab. Our son does these variations as well, and again we have seen his focus move to the ''living'' part.

If we hadn't lost Gramma Carol, we couldn't have conceived of how to broach the subject of death and dying. I think it was ''easier'' since we could put it in a context that they could understand, and find something that let them focus on her life. I think the fact that the kids rightfully understand that their Gramma lives in their hearts makes the fact that she isn't there much easier for them to understand. And going through the process with them has actually been somewhat healing for me as well.

This is a very tough and sensitive subject. I wish you the best in finding a way that works for both you and your child. -- Cindy


My son was almost two when my father died, and it was difficult to explain to him (since it was and still is a topic of conversation), but we came up with some terminology that I was comfortable with.

We explained that at certain times, usually when people get very old or very badly hurt, their bodies stop working, as in they don't eat, drink, sleep, breathe, or poop any more. When someone gets very old and dies, it's a good thing because it gets harder to make your body work when you get older, and even though we're sad because they're not here anymore to talk to or hug, we can still think about them and remember them a lot. When someone gets 'broken' (badly hurt), it's just like a toy that gets broken as opposed to worn out. It still could work, but something happened to break it. Usually the doctors can 'fix' someone who gets broken, but sometimes they can't and then they die.

I don't know how good a solution this might be for you, but it's seemed to work for us. We didn't want to compare death to sleep because we were worried that at some point when death became a solid concept, he'd be scared to sleep! Good luck. amy


You might want to check out the book ''Badger's Parting Gifts'' by Susan Varley. It does a wonderful job of gently but honestly addressing the issue of death, and helping children to look at the gifts the lost loved one have left them. Rachel

3-year-old's questions about death

November 2002

My daughter has just started to ask about death and I'm wondering what are appropriate responses for this age (3). When she asks ''What does die mean?'' I usually explain that it means your body doesn't work anymore. Just today she asked if she was going to die and then added that she didn't want to die. I told her that everybody (and other things in nature) dies but I also talked about her very old great- grandmother who has had many birthdays and is still alive. She doesn't seem scared of the idea, just curious and unsure and I would like to give her the answers she needs so that this does not become an overwhelming fear. I want her to feel secure knowing that she is a young, healthy girl who is unlikely to die for many, many years but I don't want her to get a false idea about death as only for the very old. How did you deal with the very first conversations about death? How did your children react to your different responses? I looked on the website but only found responses for children dealing with a close death but not quite the general, less direct language I'm looking for. Thanks in advance. S.M.


Well, my advice includes what I think you should *NOT* do, based upon my personal experience. When I was about 7 years old, my parents told me ''when you die, you cease to exist'' (that's an exact quote). I have been struggling my entire life to overcome the terror of that idea and my resulting fear of death. As an adult, I have felt that this is not how we're ''meant'' to relate to death, and I will not say this kind of thing to my child. Even if you believe that that is what happens, I think it far better to talk about the different belief systems, and maybe close with something like ''nobody really knows for sure, you can decide what *you* believe.'' Of course, this might be more appropriate for an older child, but maybe there's a way you can word it that will make sense to a 3 year old. I don't suggest lying about what you believe, but why terrify a child needlessly, even if you don't believe in some kind of ''after life''? I see no point to some one growing up with that kind of fear. That's my 2 cents, hope it's helpful! :) ~Alesia
I was rather relieved to hear that there is another 3-year old out there asking about death. My daughter has been obsessing over the subject since this summer, but she can now talk about it without breaking into tears. (She didn't experience a death, but she has a new sibling and a very close grandparent moved far away.) I think part of the issue is she is trying to figure out how time works, not just death. I can't say we've handled it perfectly, but here are some of the things we did:

1) When she asked what dead means, we told her you don't live in your body anymore but that you keep living in the hearts of people who love you. (We are not religious.)She seemed more comfortable with that idea than the idea of just not existing anymore.

2) This one was all our daughter's idea. She came across the old dog collar of my husband's childhood dog and began asking lots of questions about her. We answered them all as matter of factly as we could, and then she kind of went through a little grieving process, saying she missed the dog, and wished she could see her, etc. She would hug us and cry. Then she started roll playing the dog. She wore the collar for about 3 days and insisted we call her Shasta. I know it's weird, but after that, she kind of got over the upset about death.

3) Now her questions are about being old and dying. She's trying to understand what it means to be older vs. old. She was worried about getting older at her next birthday because she thought she would die. We've since been going through lots of family albums to show her that aging is a long process and that life is full of lots of years and lots of good times. She still worries a bit and asks lots of questions, but she has stopped crying about it all the time. Good luck to you. I look forward to others' advice here. anon


I told my daughter that death happens when something happens to your body that makes the part of it that's you (that makes you walk, talk, think and be essentially yourself) goes away, and all that's left is the meat and bones of the body. I also told her that some people think the part that is gone goes somewhere else, to live outside the body.

She seemed to accept this, especially once she saw a dead cat which turned up on our lawn one morning. Most people would try to get their kid away from it, but she genuinely seemed interested and not frightened, so I let her look at it a little and pointed out how it didn't seem to be living in its body anymore, the cat that looked at us out of the body's eyes and meowed at us wasn't there anymore.

She has always had a pretty healthy attitude towards death since then. She talks sometimes about our blood and our bones and our meat as if they are the mechanisms that get us around, which I think is pretty accurate.

When her grandmother died recently, she went through a phase of playing dead. We had to ''bury'' her (cover her with a blanket), then say nice things about her (her grandmother had had a wake); then she would either ''wake up'' or turn into a ghost and walk around that way (she made that connection herself!). This went on for awhile, and we were a little worried, but everyone said she is just dealing with it. They were right, she's fine.

I think that the more you try to describe accurately what happens in death, the more informed your child feels, and that is reassuring to them. I think people underestimate how much knowledge can dispel fear: it is the mysterious which is really scary.

You can also explain that death happens when someone gets hurt too badly (like in a car accident), or when they get really, really sick, or if they get too old; but it almost never happens to kids who are just regular kids running around. This will reassure them as well. Heather


Our 4-year-old daughter has been very focused on death for, gee, a year now? She does not appear to be afraid of death, but rather is curious. She is named after two deceased relatives and we have always talked to her about that. She has asked some very interesting questions, e.g., How do you eat when you die? (You don't. Your body stops working when you die.) How do you breathe when you die? (Same answer.) Do you miss so-and-so? As for missing the deceased person, I have always told her that yes, I miss the person, but I keep them in my heart. She has really taken to that. She has also started to ask how the people died. That has been a little tough, particularly when asking about my father as he only died 3 years ago and it's harder for me to talk about his death. We have found that talking to her about death in an age-appropriate way has been very helpful to all of us, actually, as it has made it easier for us (and particularly me, as my family is one who always avoided talking about it and that was very unhealthy). Unfortunately, our daughter does associate being old with dying and when she asks about most old people, she asks right away if they are going to die. So we are working on that. We do emphasize that all living things eventually die. It is difficult when she asks if we are going to die and asks when we are going to die. A friend has suggested that obsession with death is a phase all kids go through. I don't know if that is true or not, but it certainly seems to fit for our daughter. We can only hope we're doing this right, but be assured that an interest in this is pretty natural. LB
I also had a lot of discussions with my daughter about this issue when she was this age, partly because my grandmother died. She didn't take to my ''composting'' theory of cosmology - that we all go back to becoming part of the world we came from, and new people come from that. She preferred her own theory that ''the fairies 'dinged' the world into being, and can 'ding' people back to heaven when they want to''. She did accept the idea of old and very sick people dying, we discussed that this didn't mean when she had a cold she was likely to die. She accepted, sort of, that if nobody died there would be no room for new babies in the world. My son never asked these questions, but it turned out later he was thinking deeply about them too. fiona

4-year-old talks about death all the time

March 2006

Can anyone suggest a book for parents on how to explain death for a four year old? My child suddenly is talking about death daily, why do people die?, when will I die?, etc. Need help in answering difficult questions. Mom


I don't have any great books to recommend, but I want to tell you that your child is right on time with the death-questions. I was concerned when it started (and very emotional about it since I was pregnant) just as my son was turning 4. I answered with as little detail -- just answering the specific question. And I said that neither I nor Daddy would die for a long, long, long time and that we would be here for him. Good luck still ansering all sorts of questions
I was given a wonderful book by our preschool, when we experienced the death of a friend of ours (whom my 4 year old also loved). It's called ''Lifetimes'', and it is very matter-of-fact, about all living things having lives, about how long they are, and how everything dies at the end of its lifetime, or when it becomes to hurt or sick to live. There is no ''after-life'' information (either pro or anti religion), so a parent can add that as they choose. My description of it sounds rather dry, but it's an excellent book and was very comforting to my highly inquisitive 4-year-old. Karen
I am sorry to have no books to recommend but will be curious to see other responses. From the time my son was about 3, he started asking questions about death. I've tried to be truthful, matter-of-fact in tone, and avoid any language associated with euphemisms like sleep.

For some time, the answer he most excepted was: ''Everybody, everything that lives will die. Just like people, plants, and animals have a day they are born, they will have a day they die. We just don't know when that day will come.'' Often, I'd add something about how I hoped that day would not come for him or for me for a long, long time.

I try to keep in mind that curiosity is good. Try to pinpoint exactly what the question, concern, or anxiety is. Often, we as parents over-complicate issues for our little one by saying too much. Good luck. mama of boy w/ lots of ?s


I didn't see the original post, but have to HIGHLY recommend a book called ''Badger's Parting Gifts'' by Susan Varley. It has been translated in many languages and although not a self-help or how-to book, covers the issues about the death of a loved one very well. Briefly, the badger dies of old age and all his friends mourn his loss, especially little mole. Badger goes off into a tunnel (no explicit heaven). There is no sugar coating of the sadness, but a recounting of how one can remember someone positively by remembering what they did during their lifetime. I have given this book to multiple people who had losses after my own father died and I had a 3 year-old at the time. Sharon

4-year-old's questions about dying

July 2001

My four year old, who knows what dead means, has recently been asking a lot of questions over the last several weeks about dying ( does everybody die? Will I die? When do you die?, Where do you die?) and expressed concerns about not wanting to get old and not wanting to die. He seems worried about the whole subject. Is this typical in a four year old? No one we know has died recently although my mother did read him a story that had a graveyard in it and explained what it was. I have tried explaining to him that people usually only die when they are very, very, very, very, old and that it is not something he needs to worry about or think about. I'm wondering, though, whether there is a better way to answer these questions, because he continues to ask the same questions over and over. Any advice or suggestions would be much appreciated. (P.S. we are not religious).

I checked the web site and the discussion on dying is focused on helping a child deal with a particular death of a close relative. I would be interested in getting additional thoughts. Karen


My 5 year old daughter asks about this a lot too, again without yet having had any experiences of a friend or relative dying. Mostly she seems worried about me or her father dying, not about her own death. Like you, I say that mostly it happens only to people who are very very old. I also say that we don't know for sure what happens after someone dies, and that some people believe that death is not the end of a person, and when a person dies it doesn't mean that you will never see them again. I say I don't know if that's true, but it's nice to think that it might be true. I tell her that when I was her age I worried a lot about my mother dying (this is true) and my mother kept telling me not to worry, and she was right! (My mother is still alive.) I also tell her that even if I were to die there would be lots of people to look after her, and even though she would be very sad, she would be all right in the end. I am curious about how other people talk to their children about death. It is a very hard subject to deal with.
About dying: There is a book written by Maria Shriver called "What is Heaven" which may be a little too wordy for some little ones but I've had it for my daughter since she was about three and a half. Our cat died. She understands that he died but we got a new cat that looks just like him and acts just like him so now I'm afraid she beleves in re-incarnation!!! Anyway, the book was helpful when our dog passed away last year. Cindy
My son is three, and has asked quite a bit about dying. I recommend two books to get conversation going:

The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown (illustrated by Remy Charlip) (about 4 children who find a dead bird and give it a burial ceremony) and Swan Sky by Tejima. (a very powerful story about a swan family who delay flying north for the summer to be with a young swan who is sick, and then dies. Her image reappears to them in the clouds after they make the journey.)

My son got very emotional when I read these books to him, asking about his own death, our deaths, etc. Generally, I reassured him that none of us will die until we are very old, that he is safe etc. These stories gave us the opportunity to talk about the fact that people do die, and we wondered together what happens to someone after he or she dies. I've wondered if these books are a bit strong, but he often picks them out to read when I present them among a choice of books for reading time. Heather


It's not unusual for a 4-year-old to wonder about death. As a middle-aged person, I have come to see that death fundamentally shapes us, giving meaning and focus to our lives. A conversation with your child about death and aging is an opportunity for you to think about these things yourself as you find ways to express your ideas in terms a four-year-old can understand. There are a variety of children's books available about death. You will probably find some of them appeal to you and others don't. It's all right for you to say you don't have all the answers because some questions never get really answered in this life. Louise

5-year-old's fear of death

December 2004

My son has been very pre-occupied with death adn dying and the number one thing on his list for Santa this Christmas is to ''Live forever'' I hoping someone can validate that this is normal development, refer good reading materials helpful on the subject or suggest a Therapist to go over his anxieties. Thank you Stacey


I posted a similar question about my 5 year-old son a few months ago. At the time, he was seemingly quite obsessed with death with all sorts of questions: Where do we go when we die? What is Heaven? Why does god let us die? And the real shocker--If I asked you to kill me, would you do it? He would frequently state to us the order in which our family was going to die. Dad first (because he's the oldest), then mom, then the kids in order from oldest to youngest. This seemed to be his way of gaining some sense of control and mastery of the issue, but it was incredibly uncomfortable for us to hear! Anyway, the consensus among respondents to my post was that this is an entirely normal focus for this age and, in fact, that a key ''job'' of 4 and 5 year-olds is to grapple with the concept of death. Another thing that I've since come to realize is that some of the play amongst the boys at my son's pre-school has centered around good guys and bad guys seeking to kill one another. So it certainly makes sense that my son would come home with questions about killing and death. Anyway, that was all a few months ago, and now his obsession and the questions that came with it have ended. alisa
This seems to be a completely normal thing developmentally for a five year-old. Instead of lecturing her about death or brushing off the subject, allow her to talk and explore her feelings about it by asking her open-ended questions, like ''what do you think happens when someone dies?''; reassure her by acknowleging her feelings of anxiety toward death and the unknown; and don't be afraid to say ''I don't know for sure'' (if you don't) when she hits you with the really deep, philisophical questions. In our family, we believe that there's heaven, so that's also a good touchstone in my conversations with my son (6 y.o) about death. Two non-theological children's books that I've found that gently address the concept of death (and heaven) are ''The Dead Bird'' and ''Dog Heaven'' (also is a similar book titled ''Cat Heaven''), all can be found at the Albany Public Library. CC

7-year-old worried about dying

July 2007

My 7 year old daughter heard about the tragedy with the local family found up in Tilden Park a few weeks ago, which brought to her attention for the first time that it is possible for a child to die. She's thinking about it quite a lot, it seems, and though we talked about how sick the daddy must have been, and explained that these things are very rare, she is afraid to go to sleep some nights now, fearful that she will die, or that we, the rest of her family, might die. Any suggestions for how to deal with this fear, how to talk to her about it, etc.? Thanks. Too Close To Home...


Several years ago a friend's partner died, leaving two small children. I searched for websites to help out in that situation and put them onto a page called Death and Dying on my website:

http://www.anachronisticmom.com/Medical-KK/DyingandDeath-K13.html

That said, I personally, would sit my child down and say that we are not here on this earth so that people can dwell on our deaths. We are here so that people can remember us and honor us. Then you can ask if she'd like to do something to remember the children and family, and if/when she says yes, you can manufacture a handy-dandy ritual. IMHO rituals have real functions, especialy to children. Perhaps she buries a small drawing that she makes, or burns it, or ... whatever. Perhaps you can go and buy a special candle/smudge stick/piece of incense.

The point here is to let her channel her emotions toward something that you gently tell her is what we do. It will give her emotions a little context and safety, and hopefully will allow her to move on.

I would encourage her to honor the spirit of the family and NOT to dwell on how they died, and would treat the entire thing with respect, but in a matter of fact way. And when the ritual is over, I wouldn't let her dwell on it, because that's just not what you do.

No idea what others would think of this approach, but ... there you go. A suggestion. ritual-appeciating mom


Here are some thoughts: If your daughter is able to articulate what she is afraid of that would help you figure out how and what to talk about. If not, talk about your own experiences of having loved ones die. Death is very scary for people to talk about and death that is violent and horrible is a real tragedy and terrifying. In this society we usually say that a lost one was lost, or taken, or passed on and we use these kind of words to avoid the word or thought of death. In the case of the family that was found in Tilden Park, I wonder if your daughter is scared about times spent in the park, that something bad is going to happen to your family. Start talking with her about what you all can do to stay safe. If you don't feel safe with someone what to do, etc. Try to find out what she is afraid of and give her the tools for safety. Whatever you do, don't promise that death will somehow be avoided. We are after all going to die and no one knows when. If you need to talk to someone about your own fears about death do that. Talk to a pastor, rabbi, priest or therapist. Many people fear death and yet we will all face it at some point. All the best! Rachel

11-year-old's fear of dying

August 2005

My 11 year old has developed a very huge fear of death. At night when he is trying to fall asleep he will come in and tell me he is afraid of dying - often in tears. At one point he told me (during the day) that he thought there was something wrong with him because he worries about dying too much. He would like to go to therapy because of his fear - we have a therapist he used to see, but any advice or similar experience would be great. Lev


I very clearly remember going through something like this when I was an 11-year-old girl. I don't remember the feeling daily, but I did have an irrational fear of uncontrollable events like nuclear war, which I worried about every time I heard a plane fly over. (I blame this on my parents, who read chapters of _Hiroshima_ to me.) These fears made me feel very small and alone.

One day, I told my mom after school that I was ''afraid of life'' (which was really more ''afraid of bad things that could happen in life, like death'') and she took me extremely seriously. She called my father at work and asked him to come home, and he spent the afternoon walking and talking with me about my fears. I was mortified that she called him, but in retrospect, I think it was the right thing to do. It made me realize that my fears were important to them and that there are ways to talk out and combat fear. I don't remember when these fears ended, but I do remember that over time and after some discussion with my parents, I grew out of them. Hope this helps. anon


My mom is a teacher and had a student the same age who had a fear of dying as well. My mom advised her parents that they were dealing with a bright child who saw the world as it was and worried. It seems like it might be helpful for him to talk to someone and to know that what he is feeling is normal (he is just feeling it sooner than most). Good Luck
I totally feel for your son! When I was his age I had a real fear of death -- sounds very similar, in that I would most often focus on it right before I went to bed. When I thought about dying I just ultimately would come to a place of total terror and have to run out of the room I was in (often to my parents room in tears). The bad news is that I think I didn't really fully get beyond it till I was in my early 20s, and I actually know a couple other people who have had similar experiences. I did seek some therapy about it, and was told by one therapist that (1) I couldn't really be scared of death because I didn't know what it was, or what would happen in death so (2) the idea of death must represent something else that I was scared of. I kicked that thought around for a while (death = isolation/loneliness) -- never seemed exactly right, but was helpful to think about it. I think it is not a bad idea to help your son to examine what about the thought of dying is scary to him (and a good therapist could help with that). My parents were very honest and matter of fact about it (not religious people): ''Yes you will die someday, and yes it can be scary because it is unknown. But it is very unlikely to be anytime soon, and you don't have any control over it, other than living in a reasonable way. So while it will be a hard thing to do, when your thoughts about it well up and scare you, you just have to let the anxiety around it go... just let it pass by you. When you think about it, just follow that thought with, I am here today, and people I love are here today, and that's what matters!'' Kind of helping to work on being present-minded. I wish I had more helpful thoughts, but in my experience it was just an anxiety that I over time slowly learned to cope with/live with. No silver bullet (which if you think about it makes sense, I mean death is a very complex and final thing. No way to make it go away, no way to pretend it doesn't make people scared or sad. We just have to find ways to live with the fact that it exists). And in terms of your son worrying that there is something wrong with him -- the way I look at it, it is completely normal (meaning, it frequently happens, and it follows logic that it frequently happens) to have anxiety about something as big, unknown and important as death. The key is to learn how to manage that anxiety in a healthy, productive way. I was and am a happy/optimistic person, have had lots of success in life, but death scared the bejesus out of me for the majority of my life (and still makes me a little nervous)! I don't know anyone who thinks dying is fun!

Talking about deceased older siblings to a 3.5yo?

July 2008

We lost twins to still birth a little over a year before our daughter was born. This was of course devastating, and we are comforted by observing a yarzheit for them every year on their birth day/the anniversary of their death.

This year my daughter will be old enough to ask about the yarzheit candles. She's started to ask about siblings (which due to infertility challenges she may not have), and also about people ''passing away'' after a conversation about her great grandfather. She understands that ''passing away'' means that person doesn't come back, and has exhibited some anxiety about what would happen if she or we passed away.

Any ideas on how to discuss her siblings with her, given that they passed away at birth, without scaring her unnecessarily? Thank you! Mom to Three


Hi -- I want to let you know I am sorry for the loss of your twins and that you are not alone in trying to figure this out. We are in a very similar situation, we are Jewish as well, and I would be happy to talk with you privately if that feels right to you.

This fall will mark the the 5th yartzheit for our stillborn son. We are gearing up for our soon to be four year old daughter to be very curious about the yartzheit candle, the trip to the grave site, etc. We have already introduced the concept of death, as our dog died earlier this year and our son's name is not totally unfamiliar to her. However, we are preparing for this year to bring up a whole bunch of new issues.

The piece of advice I have found to be very helpful related to this situation is to answer any questions our daughter asks in a direct, clear and honest way - but to not overdo it and to not try to get her engaged in a conversation about it if she isn't pursuing it. Include her and don't hide things from her, but be prepared for her to want to talk about it at some random time in the future, not in the moment. In past years, we have told our daughters teachers/day care providers what is going on so they are prepared to answer any questions that come up.

Again -- if you would like to talk off-line please let me know. Take care. Jessica


hi, i've given a lot of thought to this very issue since our first baby died when she was a month old, and our second child (now 5.5) was born 18 months later.

i was concerned about telling our second child and also not telling him. i didn't want him to grow up not knowing and feel betrayed or shocked because we had kept this from him. on the other hand, i was so worried that it would break his heart or scar him permanently.

ultimately, i talked to a friend (my age) whose older sibling had child as an infant before she was born. my friend told me she grew up always knowing about her older (deceased) sister and that it was never scary or strange, just a fact of life.

so, one day, when my son was about 3.5 i just mentioned that i wanted to tell him that we had had a baby before him who died. i told him her name and that it was a very sad thing and that we were so glad he was here. i could see him taking in the info but i'm not sure it made a lot of sense being 3.5. then, periodically, we'd talk about it a little bit and then the words and concept became familiar. i never went too deep with it. just kept it basic and always said it was a sad thing but we were so glad he was healthy and happy.

it wasn't until a few months ago when i was pregnant with twins that our son started asking about and talking about his older sister. just kind of talking about her like, 'how old would she be now. i wish she was here, too.' interestingly, he has never seemed distressed about it. i think now that he has two younger siblings the idea of having a sister he never knew is making more sense. it may eventually come up in a distressing way, i don't know, but so far, it seems we've managed to have it be part of our family story.

in a way, i feel glad i introduced the idea and info when he was really little before there were a lot of complex questions. he treats it more like an interesting fact of our lives but not like shocking news.

i have no idea if this is helpful but i completely understand what you're going through and wish you the best. -s


My heart goes out to you for your loss. I find myself wanting to offer ideas, but having a hard time doing so. I have one happy healthy son, but had four pregnancies. All of the losses happened at the third month of pregnancy, so not as far a long as for you. And not being Jewish, I do not have a tradition of a formal yearly grieving ceremonies. When my son was old enough to ask about sibilings, I told him in very simple, age-appropriate ways that we had tried for more children, but could not have them. When he asked as he grew older, I told him that I had miscarried. Each of these pieces of information was accompanied by warmth and heartfelt reminders that he is healthy and that we love him for who he is. My suggestion to you would be similar types of conversations. But with a yarzheit, I simply don't know enough to give good advice. Here I guess I would suggest that you talk with your rabbi or another member of the community who would have experience with all of what you are dealing with. I wish you all peace. anonoumous
Hi, as a profession (prior to being an at home mom) I worked with children and families dealing with grief and loss. A couple of books that I like are Lifetimes: The beautiful way to explain death to children, by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen and What is Death?, by Etah Boritzer. The first book looks at things in nature that die, (plants, butterflies etc) as well as people and explains how everything has a beginning and an end, and focuses some on how usually things/people don't die before they are old and have lived a long time. The second book is more specific. It goes into what death means (heart not beating, not breathing), how we might feel about a person dying (sad, lonely) and how different cultures mourn the death of a loved one. The second book might have a little more detail than you are looking for but puts things into words that young people can understand.

Younger children may not have the vocabulary to express what they are thinking so you can always get creative and do something like draw a picture of what you think the place where the deceased has gone looks like (or something like that which fits with your religious/personal beliefs).

Overall the best advice I can offer is to be open and honest about what happens when someone dies, how you feel about it, and what it means with in your religious and personal beliefs. ''I don't know, but I believe ...'' is an ok answer. It's also ok to express emotions that you might have about death, even crying if it makes you sad to talk about it. Most kids will experience death at some point in their young lives, be it a pet, a grandparent, a friend etc. It's extremely helpful if they feel that they can talk to their parents; ask questions and say how they feel. Heidi


Explaining Grandma's death to 4-year old

June 2007

My mother is dying. Her lung cancer has spread to her brain, and she may only have a few months left to live. My 4-year old daughter and I are flying out to be with her and my siblings in mid-July, and we'll be there for the rest of the summer. My mother is my daughter's favorite grandparent. I have no experience with a loved one dying, and I need some advice on how to prepare my daughter for this. Specifically, how do I prepare her for seeing Grandma so sick and unable to have fun with us? How do I keep her healthy and happy while taking care of my mother? Is it appropriate to act happy and funny with her while my mom is dying in the next room? What can I do to counteract all of the sadness that will be around us? I've already looked into summer camp programs and local babysitters so that she'll have some time away from this. I really have no idea about how to handle this. dawn


I'm so sorry to hear you are dealing with this. I went through a similar experience when my father died a few years ago and my son was 2 1/2. I was really worried about how he would deal with seeing my Dad so sick.

He was fine with Dad. He was fascinated by all the medical equipment, Dad's special bed, you name it. To the extent he acted out or was stressed by it, he was mostly responding to us and our emotional state.

But it was wonderful to have the kids around - they are a great distraction for everyone. It gives everyone something to do.

I didn't want to hide what was happening. I very deliberately told him that his grandfather was dying, and not sick. I didn't want him to worry later on if he or I got sick that it meant we were going to die.

It's hard, and you should certainly have activities for him to do, but don't keep him away from his Grandma at this time. Been in your shoes


My sisters had kids that age when my mom died - and each handled the situation differently. One is a secular humanist, and kept her kids away because she didn't want them to remember my Mom that way (she was not able to communicate, and didn't know she was dying), and the other is a Christian who felt strongly about bringing her children to see their grandmother when she was sick, and reassuring them of God's love and protection.

Both were right. 20 years later all my nieces and nephews have warm loving memories of my mother, and none of them was traumatized, either way. Since both my sisters acted in the best interests of their children - as you intend to do - it all worked out fine.

Something I learned from my own kids, later, is that they tended to understand things better than I did -- just on their own terms.

Good luck, and I'm terribly sorry you and your mom are going through this tough time. I hope you get some joy this Summer, with everything else. Motherless Mom


I haven't had the experience personally (yet), but I was a Zen Hospice volunteer for several years. We had a group of kids who had experienced a loss meet at the house, and had a few parents of young children come to us for their final days. I can tell you that the kids who were actively involved in the care and experience were better at dealing with loss than those who were ''protected'' by being kept away from the dying person (this is true for adults too!). I think it's really important for kids to understand death in a natural way (I started explaining it when my kid was 2 with balloons and batteries that die, bugs, animals etc), and also to see grief and sadness as a natural reaction that is appropriate to have around the time of death of a loved one. Zen Hospice has a Bereavement Coordinator who might be able to point you to a kids group or counselor www.zenhospice.org jennifer
As a child and as an adult, I have always found the book, ''The Fall of Freddy the Leaf'' to be particularly helpful. kevin
I am so sorry that you are having to go through this difficult time. I think your daughter will be such a blessing to you in so many ways - a good distraction to you and to your mom, and she will say the things that everyone wants to say and ask, but feels too awkward. I lost my Dad 18mos ago, and my kids were so much better at honest grieving than most of the adults in my life!

The Dougy Center is a great resource for helping children through grief. There is also a book called ''Badger's Parting Gifts'' that is great for that age. You don't mention your religious affiliation, but Maria Shriver wrote a book for kids called ''What's Heaven?'' that prompted some great discussions with my kids who were then ages 3, 6 and 9.

I found a book called ''Dying Well'' by Ira Bayock(?) to be very helpful to me through my Dad's hospice care.

I wish you well on this grief journey - remember to care for yourself too. Miss my Dad


We just lost our favorite Gramma and we were really honest about the fact that she was dying but also talked a lot about where she might be going and if it might be a better place. We really liked the book ''the Death Book'' by Pernilla Stalfelt. It is a light hearted look at the traditions around death and several possibilities for after death. It is very hard to see your cild cry over the loss of a grandparent but it is also important to let her feel the grief. Stay Strong
Dawn- I am a social worker and although my experience is with adults, I used to work at Hopsice of the East Bay (http://www.hospicecc.org/) and would recommend calling them for advice. They have a special program (Comfort for Kids) that works just with kids, so are ripe with info. on the kinds of questions you are wanting help with. There are a lot of resources that talk about just these questions, so I think you'll find them helpful. Good Luck....Paula Paula
First of all, I'm really sorry about your mom. I spent quite a bit of time, as did my kids, with my father while his health was rapidly declining in the last year of his life. My daughter was 4 when he finally passed away. Because she saw his health decline, I was able to explain it as we went, if you know what I mean. When he died, I just explained it to her as plainly as I could. I also explained to her that her grandfather had a very full life and was an old man. She loved him very much and saw him a lot, but she handled the death pretty well, maybe because she was prepared for it. Also, for some reason, she never got freaked out about me or my husband dying. I was grateful for that.

As for what behavior is appropriate during your time with your mom, my kids' presence was always a welcome relief for my dad, to be honest. I always prepped them about grandpa's condition and warned them that he might not be up to visiting, so they were prepared. Always have books, drawing paper, and such on hand. My kids always did drawings for grandpa in the hospital. Even if he wasn't awake to receive them, he got them later. It made them feel like they were helping in some way. I also discussed conversation topics with my kids in advance.I gave them ideas on what to tell grandpa about so they would be prepared to talk and not just sit there in awkward silence.

It will be exhausting for you, worrying about your mom and trying to care for your daughter. Be prepared for that. Explain to your daughter that you must do this because grandma is your mom, and families take care of each other. My daughter ended up being so supportive and nurturing of ME when my dad died that I am teary-eyed right now thinking about it.

As you can tell from my thoughts on this, honesty is everything. Lay it all out for her, in terms she can handle. Even let her know you are sad and scared, but that you are going to jump in and do what you can to help.


Hi there: I put a page about dying and small children onto my website when one of my friends' wives was struck with leukemia, leaving two small children. The links might be a help. Scroll down for them. http://www.anachronisticmom.com/Medical-KK/DyingandDeath-K13.html Good luck. another mom

How to tell my children their grandmother is dying?

September 2002

My wonderful and loving mother is in the hospital in a coma and the doctors don't expect her to live. I have two children, age 7 and 2 1/2, and I was wondering how to tell my children that their beloved grandmother is dying. Is it appropriate for them to see her in the hospital' I think it might scare them. I find myself crying all the time. I try to hold back the tears around the children because it upsets them, but I can't always. What do I tell them when they see me crying' Are there any good books on dealing with grief, or on explaining grief and loss to young children' I almost feel that I just can't handle this horrible, sudden loss while still being a good mother. Any advice would be gratefully appreciated. Grieving Daughter and Mother


I am sorry to hear of your mother's illness. My grandmother died when I was 6 and I have always been sad and resentful about the fact that the hospital did not allow me to see her before she died. Apparently it was their policy (this was in NYC in the mid 1970's) not to allow small children in the unit she was in. It may be particularly memorable to me because I was with her when she became ill and I was the person who had to call for help, and then when they came and took her away I never saw her again or got to say goodbye. It left a very strong impression with me that it is important to be able to say goodbye to loved ones. I think you could prepare your children (or at least the older one, I don't have experience to speak about the younger one) for what to expect in the hospital, and obviously talking about your and their feelings would be important. You didn't mention whether they have expressed any feelings about going to the hospital and/or saying goodbye to their grandmother. I think that unless they are very scared or otherwise averse to going to the hospital that it would be a good part of the grieving process. But if it does not work out for whatever reason, I can imagine other creative ways of helping them grasp the reality of the loss (she didn't just disappear one day) and saying goodbye to her, which I think are the most important parts. Best wishes to you and them in this difficult time. Kate
I am so sorry about your mother, and my heart goes out to you. I do not have experience about telling my children about a dying parent, but my husband's father died before the children were born. I do talk about him, and tell them that he died, and that everyone misses him, and so on. As for your children, I bet that they can deal with the whole issue better than you can. They might ask a lot of questions, or seem more interested in you and your feelings, rather than the fact that their grandma is dying. I would be honest. If they see you crying, say that you are sad because you miss/are worried about grandma. I always tell my children, when they ask about death, that people die when they get to the end of their life. They seem comfortable with this. Good luck to you and your family. Maria
It seems to me that no amount of maturing in life prepares any of us for grief or death. Children are no less capable than adults in coping with grief and no less vulnerable to it. I think sharing your grief and your children's grief will bring you closer together, and it may even speed your recoveries. My condolences to you and yours. kim
As a second and third grade teacher, I've had numerous opportunities to discuss death with my students. Several class pets have passed away as well as my own family members and relatives and pets of my students. My favorite books to use are Badger's Parting Gifts and Lifetimes. I don't have the authors off the top of my head, but they are both picture books for children. Thinking of all of you dealing with this subject. Tess
My heart absolutely goes out to you.... My mother passed away two years ago, quite unexpectedly (she was only 63), and it's been a terribly difficult loss to come to terms with. I hope that's not what you're facing, but I wish you all the strength you need.

When my mom died, my daughter was just over 2, and my nephew (who was extremely close to my mom) was almost 5. While my mom was in the hospital (also in a coma), my sister decided not to take her son to see her, since she looked so awful. She explained to her son that his Grammy wouldn't look like herself and couldn't talk to him, and he seemed to feel comfortable with that. Instead, she had him draw cards for her and took those in every day. That at least gave him a sense of ''connection,'' and seemed to mean a great deal to him.

A 7-year-old, though, might be able to handle an actual visit, if he's a fairly resilient kid and you prepare him in advance and tell him that his grandmother might be able to hear him even if she couldn't respond. In the months to come, it could bring him comfort knowing he was able to hold her hand and say goodbye. (I wouldn't bring a 2-year-old, though.)

As for expressing your own grief in front of the kids, I think it's important to do it (though perhaps more moderately than you do in private.) If you try to keep it all secret, they're going to sense that something is terribly wrong anyway, and they won't be sure what it is, and that will just scare them.

Even my two-year-old seemed to understand when I talked to her about why I was sad. As we talked, I also learned how attached she already was to my mother, and how sad she was that she couldn't play with her anymore. She had a lot of questions about death, and really had to work through the issues in her mind (is she coming back? can I visit her? where is she now? etc.) We looked at pictures of my mom, talked about the fun things we'd done together, and talked about how we could still talk to her, even though we wouldn't hear her talking back to us. And, of course, I reassured her often that her daddy and I weren't going anywhere, and that she'd have her mommy until she was an old woman herself (even if I can't really guarantee that.)

Two years later, we still talk about her a lot, so she still has a presence in my daughter's life. Both she and my nephew say from time to time that they miss their Grammy, but both generally talk about her happily.

Good luck to you! Elise


I am so sorry to hear about your mother. Really, it's heartbreaking. I lost my father a month after my daughter turned one, so I didn't have to deal with the issue until she was older. My daughter, now age 4, seems to talk about death a lot, having been named after two deceased relatives, having lost her grandfather, and more recently a great great aunt. I think it's OK for our kids to see us crying. We're human beings - we get sad, we cry. Recently, my daughter asked if I missed my dad. I said I missed him a lot, but I keep him in my heart. This is true, and this is what I have chosen to teach my daughter. I keep pictures of my dad around - nice smiling ones. I show my daughter pictures of my dad with her when she was a baby and remind her that we have pictures and home movies to help us have happy memories, and I tell stories about my dad to keep his memory alive (something that wasn't done when my mom died and thus, I have no memories of her at all). I would not take your children to the hospital. I think that would be too much for them to handle. I also didn't take my daughter to my great-aunt's funeral - again, I feel she was too young. We have also explained to our daughter that when you die, your body stops working. There are a number of good books for children archived on the website to help explain death to them. Go to a bookstore if you can and read them to see if they will work for you and your family. My thoughts are with you at this difficult time. Been there, sadly...

Explaining Death to a 2-year old

June 1999

What is the best way to explain death to a two year-old and help ease the pain/confusion of never seeing a close person (her current daycare provider) again? How can I best communicate to her that she did nothing wrong to have caused this situation? She might have feelings of guilt and doubt, but these terms/concepts are beyond her current vocabulary. What kind of transitional behavior can I expect from her? I've read somewhere to never explain death with sleep, or the child might become afraid of sleeping. A few months ago somebody on this list recommended children's books on the subject of death and dying, but I did not save the information - - assuming I won't need it. Any comments are appreciated.


Explaining death to children is a very individual thing. My father died when my child was 4, and going on experience from my own past, I included my child in everything, including viewing his body. She did just fine. She was glad to be there and wanted to see him, etc. She did become bored at the service, and her father took her out to play outside when this happened. We were quite concerned about it all. I know for a fact that when children, or folks at any age, are left out of things, they feel much worse and have no way to reconcile all the emotions they see going on around them. The one difference you are dealing with here is the close relationship your child had with her provider. I assume it was something sudden and you did not have an illness with a time period which would have provided some preparation/explanations. You might even inquire of a therapist who handles death issues in particular for advice. I did this with my own experience, and it was very good. I haven't looked recently, but I'll bet there's all sorts of online resources for this as well. I know that Cody's has a good selection of books on death, and psychology books related to adults, teens and children. I would go there. Good luck, Tamara
I heartily recommend Tomie De Paola's "Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs," which deals with the death of his great-grandmother. It has a simple explanaton of death, but mostly tells of the five-year old Tomie's loving friendship with his great grandmother, and how he tries to understand her loss.

My daughter really liked it when she was 2. We both continue to like it a lot. It should be available at both the library and at bookstores in paperback. Suzanne


I recently heard it explained as one's body going from "full of life" to "empty". -- Regan
My son's dad died when my son was 20 months old. Naturally I didn't have the slightest idea what to tell him, so I sought professional advice. The quick version is that you want to tell the truth, in a way your kid can relate to, and in a way that you can build on later without having to contradict yourself (and thereby undermine your kid's trust in you). If you don't tell the truth, kids come up with their own explanations, which may not be healthy (e.g., they think they did something to cause the death.) If you don't explain at all, you're modeling the idea that denial is an acceptable way to deal with death. Kids know anyway that the air is charged emotionally, and if you don't explain, they'll come up with assumptions and explanations that aren't accurate. And they'll start doubting their own perceptions. They know something is up, but everyone tells them nothing has happened, everything is ok. And by not talking frankly about death, you make it (like sex in the "old days") a topic that looms large for the uncomfortable "big explanation" later.

Use reality words, not euphemisms. No one knows what happens after death, and it's fine to say that to the kid. If you have some religious belief, you can incorporate that. Death of a pet or person can be a good intro into your spiritual beliefs.

You'll have to revisit the subject from time to time as your kids develop. They "understand" it in one way at one age and integrate it differently as they grow.

Don't be afraid to show your own sadness and to talk about it. But also make sure your child doesn't see you freaking out about a death. He needs to know you are still there for HIM, that you are going to hold together despite the death. He has to see that you are functional and healthy because he knows instinctively that he depends on you for his very life.

I'm just going to quote from my book, The Single Parent's Almanac, for what I told my son (20 months at the time), as I can't say it any better: With my son, "I told him what had happened and presented emotional expression as normal and natural: 'Daddy died. That means we won't see him anymore. You may see us cry because we're sad and will miss him.' Because young children are especially self-centered and may feel responsbiel for everything, I emphasized that Christopher was not the cause of Tony's illness or death.

Although Christopher knew Tony was gone, toddlers have no sense of time or loss and think death is temporary. I was tempted to let him think that indefinitely, but he would have come to mistrust me later when he understood the true nature of dying. I used no euphemisms and told Christopher the truth, or a limited version of it that I could build upon afterwards without contradicting earlier statements. Daddy had not 'gone to sleep,' 'passed away,' 'gone to heaven,' or 'left for a long visit.' I used simple words and concepts to which Christopher could relate: 'Dying means Daddy's body stopped working. He can't eat or breathe or walk anymore.' Having experienced eating, breathing, and walking for himself, Christopher gained some sense of death in this way."

I went on in the book to explain how I sheltered him from others' intense emotions, maintained routines as much as possible, and gave him extra "loving time." He didn't go to the memorial service.

I also wrote, "In the weeks after the service, I couldn't bear thinking about my son's future questions ... My first instinct was to spare Christopher (and myself) the pain of our situation. Parenting, however, involves helping a child experience and label his emotions while avoiding the message that he 'should' feel any certain way. Instead, I told Christopher how I felt. 'It makes me sad that Daddy died,' but not, 'You're sad, too.'"

I really couldn't tell, in fact, what Christopher was thinking. Instead of trying to guess at his emotions, I just reflected back his comments so he would know I heard him. "You're thinking about Daddy." Later we talked about emotions in general - sad, glad, etc. Age appropriate terms. I made up stories and explained that some are sad, some happy, and some both. This planted the seed that feelings can be complicated and that complex feelings are okay.

Christopher didn't have much immediate reaction, and I worried about THAT! I was advised to approach him in the third person, a more distant, safer-feeling way for him. "A boy might wonder why his Daddy doesn't live with him now." The idea was to give him permission to talk about the subject without forcing it.

Linda


I've been dealing with this issue with my own 3 and 5 year olds, whose Aunt died in December. At the time, the hospice my aunt was in gave me a booklet about how to talk about death to children. I would be happy to xerox it and send it to anyone who wants it (I doubt it's copyrighted). However, I should say that the questions my own children had were not at all covered in the book! For example, they know that people and other animals that die turn into skeletons, and they kept pestering me about what happens to the skin, and they were under the impression that someone took Auntie's skin off before she was buried. (that was a difficult subject for me to talk to them about) They were very adamant about going to see the place she is buried; I took my older daughter there, and we talked about the plaque and what it means, and why we take flowers to the grave. This weekend I'm taking my younger daughter as well. We talked about why Aunt Muriel can't talk anymore, and the spirit, and what happens to it after death (I'm not specifically religious, I told them that some people believe that the dead person's spirit goes to another place, and when we die, our spirits go there too, but nobody really knows.)

I was also recently at a Learningsmith store and they had a wonderful book for small children that explained death. The story line revolved around the death of a pet, and the explanation the parents give to the children about what happened, and the ceremonies the family goes through after the pet dies. I was really impressed, and almost bought it (I still may). -- Kimberly


When my husband died almost three years ago, my children were 3, 6 & 8. The book we found the most helpful (and still do) is Marc Brown's (of the Arthur series -- books and TV) When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death. It is a picture book of two-page "chapters". The headings are: What Does Alive Mean?; Why Does Someone Die?; What Does Dead Mean?; Feelings About Death; Among Friends; Saying Good-bye; Keeping Customs; What Comes After Death?; Ways to Remember Someone; and a glossary. I found it straightforward, simple language, and inclusive/accepting of different customs -- kind of lists of various options with no judgment attached.

Another book I really liked was Badger's Parting Gifts by Susan Varley. Badger dies in this book and his friends are sad, especially Mole. At the end, they talk about all the gifts Badger gave them -- teaching them to skate, cutting a string of paper figures, etc... (I don't remember exactly, but you get the idea)

I also logged onto www.amazon.com and put the names of these books in. They have a section that's called "People who bought this book also bought..." and it lists other related books, some of which looked interesting to me.


End of life discussions with dying mom

May 2006

My mom, in her late 80's, living in another part of the country, has been diagnosed with an inoperable and deadly cancer. She is still functioning very well and not in pain, and (at least currently) will take no treatments. My problem is that I'm at a complete loss about what I need to do, emotionally, spiritually, before she dies. Finances and legal issues have been taken care of. My children are very young and hardly know grandma. I speak with her twice a week but it's mostly about medical facts and small talk about books or movies. The attempts I have made to discuss more emotional issues have been met with comments like ''I don't want to discuss depressing things, when you die you die, I hate when people have cancer and people look at them with pity and say - oh, I'm soooo sorry, I love you I love you.'' She does not want to resolve old conflicts, it seems to get her furious all over again - we've managed well over the years because we have learned to not discuss these things. But it frightens me that I will lose her soon and that there's something I will wish I had done or said. We are so lucky to have this time...but what does one do with this time? I would like advice about how any of you have handled this, any regrets you have had, and any spiritual or psychological counseling that has helped you understand your role with a dying parent. --unsure what to do


My heart is with you. If I say anything you are not ready to hear or it sounds rude, I apologize.

My mother, 84, died in October. She was confined to a wheel chair for years. When I walked into her hospital room a few days ''What (possesion) do you want?'' I wasn't quite on that page yet. Being the youngest, 46, my mother wanted to make sure I wasn't left out. Once I got over the shock, it was a wonderfully ordinary conversation.

When she was settled back at home, I asked her why she had refused the feeding tube? (as little cracking in my voice as I could) She said ''Why would I want to live like that?''

I was blessed to have those words. I know that dying for her was an ease to her suffering not something to be feared. I hope you are able to hear it, if this is what your mother wants to say. I really had nothing to settle. I later learned things from another sister that I wish I did not know. She did have issues but she didn't feel the need to go there with my mother (her stepmother).

My children (7 and 9)were in the room a few hours before she died and immediately after. My mother was Catholic, so we prayed the rosary before she was taken away. My children never seemed to have been traumatized. My mother had been getting progressively weaker all of their lives.

If your children could visit your mother, they might realize that she is ill and it may help them understand better. Unless she is a very young looking 80, chances are they already see her as an ''old person''.

I wish I had something to say that would ease you through this. At the risk of sounding like a Halmark card, your mother will always be in your heart. Which reminds me of when my oldest sister and brother went to the mortuary. My sister reminded the man that she had made the arrangements for my father a few years earlier and that we had a large family (more repeat business). He said ok, he would not charge for taking the flowers to the cemetary. To which my sister says ''Oh, I can't wait to tell mom that they gave us money off''. My sister did not realize that she had said it out loud until my brother pointed it out to her. We all smile and laugh knowing our mother would be amused.. My mother's daughter


You will have your needs in this process and she will have hers. It sounds like right now, she needs for you just to be the same-old-same-old with her in order to support her. That is one of the normal stages of dealing with dying (denial). So, since she's going thru the harder time, I'd listen to her asking you just to be the same daughter you've always been.

As for you and your needs, you might think some about it, maybe read some about dying, look into your religious roots on dying or consider therapy JM


My mother-in-law died of cancer last year after a 14 month battle. She had two sons, one of whom had periodically been estranged from her and who has been angry with her for his whole life. She spent most of her illness convinced she was in remission. I kept on waiting for the acceptance stage, and for the heart-to-heart between her and her sometimes-estranged son.

Neither one happened. Up until the day she died, she insisted she was going to get well, despite the fact that she was in hospice. She never had the slightest inclination to discuss spiritual matters -- she was a die-hard (so to speak) existentialist and remained so.

And yet, despite the fact that all these coming-to-terms things never happened, her death was one of the most beautiful things I''ve ever been part of. We all told her that we loved her when she was literally on her deathbed, and the sometimes estranged son made his peace with her in private, while she was semi- conscious. She died surrounded by her family, and felt loved, and that was all that counted.

So how do you spend these last months? Visit as often as you can manageand bring the kids with you sometimes even if she's too sick to interact with them. It will mean something to them later on that they knew her. Even visiting for a day or two will mean a lot to both of you. My husband called his mother every day, just to talk for five minutes and check in, update her on the grandchildren, work, whatever.

That's all you can do -- be together, enjoy each other's company. In the end, I felt like it was exactly right. If there's something you feel like you'll regret not saying, say it, but know that mostly what matters in the end is letting go, forgiving, accepting. Unless she wants to talk about spiritual/emotional matters, I'd do your processing with your partner, your friends, your spiritual advisor if you have one, or a therapist. One word of warning -- the year of my MOL dying was hell on my marriage. It brought up a lot for my husband that I was unprepared for. Counseling saved us. Good luck to you. It's such a hard, sad thing to lose a parent. nelly


Oh this is so hard, and I'm sorry you have to go through it. I lost my dad last year after a six year struggle with leukemia, and I had a hard time with the same issue. I didn't want to be overly dramatic every time we talked and make my dad feel like he was about to die, but at the same time, I was aware every time I visited that it could be the last time I saw him. So like you, we ended up chatting about nothing - or going over and over his medical history. I was frustrated with it at the time, but in retrospect, it was fine. What my dad wanted more than anything, I think, was more of the relationship we already had - the chance to spend time with me, not changed in any way, but to get as much time as possible together. So I'm happy that I called all the time, made the effort to visit as often as possible, and didn't radically change our relationship in any way. It's pretty hard for me to write about this in a public forum - and to fully describe how I feel about the experience 1 year later - but if you want to e-mail more about it, feel free to contact me Nerissa
First, I am so sorry about your Mom. How difficult it must be to deal with her illness. I truly feel for you. In my opinion it is important to respect her wishes at this time - it seems that trying to talk about emotions,etc just upsets her. This must be so hard for you. Are there specific things you still feel you need to tell her? Is writing her a card or a letter an option? That way you could tell her all you want to, and she could read it when she feels like it, and have a chance to absorb it. Even then, she may not 'open up' with a response, though. But at least you will have expressed it Anon
I so sorry to hear about your mother. I am happy that she's not in any pain and that all the financial and legal matters are taken care of. Three years ago my family dealt with my father's terminal cancer, each in our own way. My father was very private and we didn't ever discuss directly the fact that he was dying. This was difficult for me. At the same time I wanted to respect his choices. One book I found very helpful was Dying Well by Ira Byock. Even though I wasn't the one dying, this book helped me look at it from my dad's point of view. It was also really helpful in preparing me for his painful death. In the end the best I could do for him was let him know how much I loved him, and I believe he knew that. If nothing else this book could be a good place for you to begin. Remember, you can't change your mother and you shouldn't try to. But you should also listen to your heart - if there are things you need to say to your mother you should try and find a way to say them that respects both of you. Good luck and my thoughts go out to you in this difficult time - missing my dad
My father died suddenly many years ago, but one thing I did before he died (not knowing he would die soon after) was write him a letter. We had a difficult relationship, and in that letter I wrote him from my heart, acknowledging the pain between us, and that I loved him, and he wrote back, very grateful for my letter. We never talked about it, but I have been forever glad that I did that. So perhaps writing is way for you to say what you'd like to say to your mother, I think it is worth doing anon
My mom died 7 years ago and your situation sounds so familiar. I wanted to have those discussions about all those ''deep issues'' and my mom kept changing the subject. One day she just said that she got so tired of always having to talk about how she felt and what the doctor said and what they were doing. Sometimes she just wanted to forget that she was sick and have a normal conversation about mundane things. Periodically I gave her the opening to talk about her illness but almost always she ignored it. It sounds like you're taking your cues from your mom, letting her talk about what she wants and needs to talk about. Even if there are issues you want to resolve, you're giving her the chance to be in control of at least a little part of her life. It sounds like she's enjoying having some normal time with you, and that's a real gift from you to your mom. Cathy
When my first husband was dying of cancer, he did not want to talk about it. He only wanted to talk about cures and second opinions and even though it was clear to me that things were progressing rapidly he would not process with me the way I so needed. At the time I was living in Europe and didn't pursue looking into a grieving group which is what I really needed. It just didn't exist. When my mother died of cancer, four years prior to my husband's diagnosis, I participated in a grieving group in San Francisco which was great. The Center for Death and Dying? It was 15 years ago and I am not sure if it still exists. The loved ones of participants in our group were at all different stages of dying; it was immensely helpful. With my husband I found I needed to follow his lead. But I would also recommend processing this for yourself now, rather than later. It wasn't until the night before he died that I was able to say what I really wanted to say all along to help him let go, ''that everything here would be fine, his children, me, his finances... (whatever it might be) and that I would always love him very much. I think it is a rare thing to die feeling like one's work here on earth is completely finished. It wasn't until the last night even through heavy sedation that he was able to speak to me about his own death. I could go on and on but what it comes down to, I think, is respecting your mother's wishes and taking care of your needs too. She is not the one to process with, it's probably just too much for her. I wish you the best of luck as you go through this important and amazing time. Warmly, Nancy
I just saw this and wanted to tell you what my mom told me. I was extremely close to my grandmother (am not so close to my mom, although she was close to her parents.) Sorry if that's confusing. However, when my grandmother died several years ago, my mother threw herself into helping, working with her, being there, etc. about 400%. My grandmother never really talked about things all that much either, and I felt a real pull to be LINEAR, get it SETTLED, SAY it. I didn't, of course, because it wasn't my event, although I think that I said something one day and she didn't pursue it.

Finally, I was talking with my mother and I said ''so what do I SAY?'' She gave me one of those profoundly wise mom answers. She said: ''Dying is like going on a very long, long trip, all by yourself. You have to prepare for it. You need to do what YOU need to have done when she is gone, so that you don't have any major regrets. Take care of that. And other than that, just ... be with her. Just sit there. Be her company as she starts on her journey.''

I send you a hug. This is tough stuff cat


A year and a half ago I was in a very similar situation. I do have regrets, and could I do it over again I would have 1)written her a letter saying goodbye in a way I wasn't able to say out loud, 2) called hospice myself instead of waiting for her permission to do so, and 3) gotten myself some grief counseling WHILE she was dying instead of after her death. Some things I am glad I did: visited as often as I could and brought my kids to see her. Karen

Casual friend I like a lot is dying

April 2003

A woman I know is dying of cancer. We have a relationship for business reasons, so we aren't quite as intimate as friends...but I really like her and relate to her and always have nice conversations with her. This woman is very open about what is going on with her health, although she hasn't come right out and said ''I'm dying.'' I think she's one of those people who think, ''I'm living,'' no matter what stage of life they are in. But she has told me to spend as much time with my kids as I possibly can. My family really likes her family, her in particular. She and her husband have been very good to us in our business relationship. Our daughters have played together. But they live hundreds of miles away, where they have a huge support network. Given all this, what can I do for her, or give her, or them--especially her kids, aged about 6 and 8 years old? What would be helpful? Appropriate? A right-sized token of my appreciation of her? All suggestions much appreciated.


When my mother was fighting cancer, the best things she received from friends were truly touches from the heart: a card or letter expressing their love/fondness for her, a video of a friend's school kids singing to her, a picture of her favorite place and friends toasting her. The fact that you are taking the time to find out what to send tells me you know what to do... just talk or write from your heart. Justi
I commend you for wanting to keep your connection to your friend in this time. I was full of ideas until I got to the part about your friend living hundreds of miles away; that makes things much more difficult.

For starters, I would recommend telling her exactly what you have told us: that the relationship is meaningful to you, and in this time in her life you would like to be able to help her.

>From my experiences with dying family and friends, just keeping in touch on a regular basis is very valuable. You do notice who stays in your life and who fades away at these times. If you have e-mail contact, that is a great medium, because the family can read and respond on their own time table.

Is there any way through your business that you can make life easier for her and her family? Best of luck. Jodie


This sounds so sad. But it also sounds like your friend has a good support system going for her. What if you just broke through the protocol of business relationships and just flat out tell or write to the friend to let her know how much she means to you and what an inspiration she is. Another idea is to do something for her children--write up some of your favorite memories of your friend, include pictures, or comments, things like that. Give it to the children so that they can have more to look at as they remember their mom.

I guess the tricky thing is that she has not flat out told you that she is dying, and you don't want to step across a line. You could still tell your friend how much you value her--how much better to tell her if she can be a friend for years. And you could still write up the memories, but maybe keep them with YOU until her children need such things. Carolyn


Dealing with Grief - Death of a Spouse

I know it's been a few weeks since this topic first came up . I've been swamped with Open Enrollment, but I wanted to respond to the anonymous posting from October 22 on the woman who recently lost her husband.

First, you have my sincere condolences. I work in the Campus Benefits Unit. I lost my husband a year ago to cancer. We have three children, ages 3 1/2, 6 (first grade) and 8 (third grade) at the time he died. The oldest two are boys, our youngest a daughter. You didn't mention how old your children were and how your husband died, so some of this may apply, some may not. Also, I would be happy to e-mail or talk with you anytime. I've found it really helps to share experiences with someone who's been there.

First, we all had to acknowledge how hard his death was and that we missed (and still miss) him. We've always kept an open door for talking about him. We especially like to talk about the funny things he did and laugh about it. I've also always said that it is okay to cry and be sad. We still (and I always plan to) bring him up and talk about him as part of our life . what he thought about things, would have liked, too bad he has to miss this, Daddy would have been so proud, etc. I've always tried to treat the situation as if talking about the person who has died is a normal part of life . Don was so important to us I don't want to forget him and I don't want the kids to forget their father. At the same time, we have moved on with our lives. It's a gradual process, and if your loss is very recent, I'm sure it's not something you can even see yet . I couldn't. We all just took it a day (or an hour, or a minute) at a time and never completely gave up. I/We particularly found the first six months the absolute worst time, and find that now, my grief ebbs and flows and tends to get very intense around holidays, birthdays and things we used to do together. Also, it sometimes just hits out of the blue.

Moving on towards the children ... My kids tended to keep "the best" stuff for me. We saw a family therapist before and for awhile after Don's death. I'm sure it helped some . especially in terms of helping my sons get in touch with and verbalize their feelings. As young as my daughter was, she was very in touch with how she felt about all this. We also got hooked up with a wonderful art therapist through Kaiser hospice whom we have continued to see privately . she's a wonderful person who brings a sense of calm and caring with her, and she really focuses on each child during their time with her. The kids really love her, and we continue to see her because they want to.

We also found a few books that really helped:

1. Badger's Parting Gift, by Susan Varley: Badger has grown old, and in the story dies. The other animals, particularly Mole, really miss him. It talks about how Mole feels, and then the animals discover that remembering Badger and the special things he taught them helps them feel better.

2. When Dinosaurs Die, by Laurie (? I think this is her name) and Marc Brown (he's the author of the popular Arthur series): This book was a great jumping off point for talking about when people die, what happens, different rituals, feelings, what we can do to remember and honor the person, It's set up in two page "chapters", and particularly with my two youngest children, we'd read and talk as we went along.

3. The Fall of Freddie the Leaf, I think by Leo Buscaglia talks about the life cycle.

I've also found a book recently called: The Loss that is Forever, The Lifelong Impact of the Early Death of a Parent, by Maxine Harris, Ph.D. I haven't read much yet, but it has given me some language and images of loss that I wish I had had a year ago.

I got all of these books at/through Barnes & Noble. Friends and the art therapist introduced me to some of them and this last one I found on my own.

One thing I did when Don died is that I talked to each of my children's teachers and told them I would be available to come in and talk about what is was like for Don to die. I thought of this because when I took one of my sons back to school, his teacher told him that the other children were not to ask him any questions about his dad's death! I was very concerned and was thinking that if I were six or eight I would have a lot of curiosity and questions and perhaps concerns (if it happened to him, it could happen to me) about what happened. With my sons' permission, and agreement that they wanted to do this, I did go in during the next week and talk with both classes about what had happened. The teachers' gave us time, and my son and I sat up front and I read the book about When Dinosaurs Die, then let the class ask questions. I think it helped us all (teacher, classmates, my child, even me) a lot. Many people, I've found, don't know how to respond when someone dies. By going in and talking to my sons' classes, I feel like I defused a potentially difficult situation and set up how we, as a family, were going to handle losing Don. The kids got to ask questions then, and I told them they could always ask me other questions later. I told my kids they could always tell someone they didn't feel like talking about their dad or his death . it was up to them and how they felt at the time . but we loved him and he was important to us and we wanted to remember him and talk about him when we felt like talking about him . that whatever they felt at the time was okay and they should say that. They haven't told me that they've had a hard time with anyone at school teasing them about their father's death . but we've tried to be very matter of fact about the situation and I've tried to give them a way to respond.

All three children expressed (and at times, still express) their loss in different ways . anger, acting out, sadness/tears, honoring their dad in various ways as have I. Some examples: I think my daughter cried at some point every day the first few months for her daddy. Now she tells me that he lives in her heart with God and is always with her, though there are still times, especially when I'm angry with her, that she still cries for him. My oldest son got "LI'L" DJ for his name on his baseball shirt last summer because he's named after his dad. My middle son recently wrote a memory book in school this year about the things he especially liked to do with this dad. Also, I've shared enough of my tears and sadness with them for them to know how I feel and that it's okay to be sad, and still get on with life. My kids don't stay too sad for too long at any one time, it ebbs and flows for them too. I hoped at the beginning, and still think that keeping the door open about talking about him and treating his death as a part of what can happen in life has helped us cope. It has been hard but it's something we've learned to live with. Sometimes it's still hard. I look back and don't know how we made it to here . I feel like we've been to hell and back and put each other through hell at different times, but we've survived and are doing quite well over all. The loss becomes part of who you are . you don't "get over it", you incorporate it. Recognizing this has also helped me get through . I don't expect to "get over it". What I have found though, is that there are still many wonderful things in life to enjoy.

Sorry to write such a book. I wanted to respond to you and just started writing about various things that have happened/helped this last year. As I said at the beginning, and I'll say again at the end, please feel free to contact me. With all the holidays coming up, I'm sure it will hard. Ours were last year. We did do some things differently which helped. I'd be happy to talk with you about that too. I don't know what (or even if) holidays you celebrate.

Marie


When my husband died my daughter was too young to remember him or really know what had happened. As she got older, and it got easier for me as I was through the worst as she began her grieving, the most helpful book for her was called 'Lifetimes: A Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children' by Robert Ingpen and Bryan Mellonie. It was one of the few books on the subject, that because of its matter-of-fact tone I could read to her without totally losing self-control. It truly is a wonderful book and helped to explain to her how and why her dad died.

For me, the two most helpful books were 'The Courage to Grieve' by Judy Tatelbaum and in particular 'Starting Over: Help for Young Widows and Widowers' by Alice Rice Nudel. I suspect that 'Starting Over' is out of print now, but you might try a public library. I don't see a listing for it in Melvyl.

When talking to my daughter about her father, I was always very straightforward about what happened. I didn't use euphemisms like "he's sleeping" or "he went to heaven". I just said he died. At first that didn't really mean anything to her because she didn't understand. But gradually she came to understand and as a consequence was always very straightforward about it with other people. She usually found some way to announce it to her classmates, so that they knew who she was. She continually surprised me with how she dealt with it. Movies that I found frightening as a child, resonated with her, such as Bambi and others where a parent died. Plus, I always made certain that she knew who would take care of her if something happened to me.

Be aware that your children may get very scared if you get sick. They'll need lots of reasurance that you just have the flu or a cold or whatever and you will recover. And Marie is right, you don't ever get over it, you just get on with it. From my experience facilitating a grief support group it takes between two and three years ( I know this sounds like a lot of time - but for me, just knowing that I would feel better sometime was helpful) to feel ready to move on.

Debbie

Grief and the Holidays

With the winter holidays approaching, and actually Thanksgiving already past, I wanted to share one thing that made a big difference for me last year in coping with Christmas.

At the suggestion of our art therapist, we made ornaments using photos and photocopies of photos with Don (my deceased husband) in them. We used some that were just him, some with one or another of us and him, and a family picture. We got out ribbon, glitter, sequins, glue and I don't remember what else - your basic collage materials and went to town. It was very therapeutic - it brought Don into our Christmas. We hung some of the ornaments on the tree, we gave some to other family members including his mother, and we used some for decorations around the house.

It was very simple, yet very meaningful. Before that, I hadn't found a way to incorporate him into our celebrations.

Wishing you all the best of holiday celebrations to all of you!

Marie


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