Talking to Young Children about Death

Talking to children about death
Talking to children about death.

My son Noah was very close to his great grandparents.  My mother took care of him while I worked and she also provided a lot of care for her parents, so he spent a lot of time with his greats.  He was just a young toddler and I knew that one day he would experience the death of a loved one.  Grandma was getting quite aged and I wondered how I would explain to someone so young about death when that day came.  These two books, and others in the Little Blessings series became among our most loved bedtime books.  They are darling books, in poem-like style and with inviting illustrations of a group of multicultural children.

The whole process had me asking my own questions about what I believed about death.  Do I have a guardian angel? Does everyone go to heaven?  Is my father in heaven?  Will I see my father if he is in heaven?  What is heaven like?  It can be a wonderful thing to have to explain something to a child, when we ourselves have to dig deep for the answers.

I had identified myself as a “Christian” for most of my life, yet I didn’t even know the answers to these questions, that are pretty clearly outlined in the Holy Bible.  The Little Blessings books tell the story and provide specific scriptural references at the end of the story to address the truths that are claimed on the pages.

Now, I realize, not everyone is a Christian and there are many theories about deep issues such as this.  I have no interest in telling anyone what to believe.  I just can say that I believe the scriptures in the Holy Bible.  I am a student of the Bible, so I don’t claim to understand it all.  Some things I understand and believe.  Some things I don’t understand, but I trust. Some things I have no clue, but rely on my Father in Heaven to reveal to me in His perfect timing, AND my brothers and sisters in Christ to help me understand.

Back to my son…and my grandmother.

The day drew near that she would be passing to Heaven.  There were very few questions from my toddler.  There was the trust of a child who had learned about Heaven and that God would supply perfect peace if we would trust in Him.

So often, a parent brings a child for therapy with me who has experienced the loss of a loved one.  The parent describes to me, “I don’t know…I just told him Grandpa is in heaven.  I didn’t really know what to say.”  The child begins to ask a lot of questions and in everyone’s grief, words meant to be comforting are spoken; “You’ll see Grandpa again.” “Grandpa is looking down on you.” “Grandpa is your guardian angel.”  Sometimes parents give the child a symbol or even a pendant with Grandpa’s ashes so that they can “hold on to Grandpa.”  There are so many emotions during times of loss.

I encourage every parent to dig deep and really explore what they believe about death.  From pets, to “road kill,” to strangers they hear about on the news, or any of the dozens or hundreds of people (even children) who die every year by tragedy, to Grandma or Grandpa, your children will experience death and they will have questions.

But I can’t leave without sharing the ending of the story of my son and his great grandmother.  My mother had gone to be with my grandmother as she was dying.  That night at bedtime, my son wasn’t coming when I called.  I went to see what had caught his attention and he was sitting on the stairs.  I asked him what he was doing and he said, “Great Grandma is dancing in heaven with a yellow dress.”  It was just a sweet moment because of course, she was dying.  When I talked to my mother the next morning and she told me at what time my grandmother died, it was right at the time that my son paused on the stairs.  Great Grandma never wore a yellow dress that I knew of, and I’m not typically a person who thinks supernatural things are true, but though I tried, this one I could not deny.

One of my favorite verses, John 14:2-3 (NIV) My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.