Death has been quite a topic of discussion in our household lately. I have shared a bit on Facebook as I have been searching for answers for the best way to explain it to my kids. What I realized is that there is no “best way” to explain death and dying to children, really. I try as best as I can but it’s usually interrupted by knots in my throat and it’s no easy task to complete. Especially when the topic is centered around my father who passed in 1999 at the end of his battle with colon cancer.
My boys never had the opportunity to meet my dad and they only know of him through pictures. My youngest son always asks me questions about him. He’s always wants to know the type of person he was and what he liked, but most of all, why he left and isn’t present with us (mind you, my son is 5 years old). These were the only questions he had asked my husband and I until just the other day, he caught me by surprise when he ran up to me as I was writing. As soon as either of my boys run over, I immediately focus my attention on them but this time he approached me in such a serious way that it really made me stop in my tracks instantly. I knew this had to be yet another question about death.
Carter said to me, “Mommy, can we call grandpa to say hi?” My response was, “No honey, we can’t. I am sorry.” He immediately said, “Why not?” and I went on to say, “because there aren’t any phones in heaven…” Without me even finishing my sentence he said, “It’s just not fair!” I hugged him close and shared, “you’re right, it isn’t fair but remember what I told you about him being in everything beautiful? You don’t need to speak to him because he’s always around you.” In Carter’s eyes, as I am sure in the eyes of most people, death is just so unfair and it’s too final. It scares him as it scares many and this worries me.
He ran away after I reminded him about our talk a few months back. We witnessed a beautiful sunset and I remember him asking where heaven was. I went on to tell him that heaven was in everything beautiful… every sunset, cloud, sunrise, beautiful rainstorm… heaven was right in between that. That really was the only way I knew how to explain it. I’m not sure if it was the best way to examine the afterlife with him, but it was all I knew at that moment. I want to give Carter those answers but I also don’t want him to worry. His death questions seem to bring about fear of losing one of us, his parents or a close family member in the home.
I wish there was an easy way to explain death to kids but honestly, I don’t think there is. I have really been tested with these questions, sometimes even my faith has been strained. I’m thankful that my boys have eased some of that pain of losing my dad. I am able to keep his memory alive by answering those questions about him and sharing a bit of my childhood. Although death is a hard and sensitive topic, it’s a part of life and I want to be the one to have these discussions with my children. I want to put their mind at ease and remind them that beyond earth there is a heaven… and someday we will all meet again.
Care to share: How would you deal with that discussion about death with your child when it arises?