Talking About Death With Your Kids

As I mentioned in my last post, my husband’s uncle passed away this week. I’m writing this from New Jersey, where he lived, in a hotel room as my kids try not to fall asleep.

Part of being a parent is having those Talks with your kids that you’d really rather keep under the rug. Death is something nobody likes to talk about, and it’s tricky with kids. I’ve found that being straightforward is the best thing.

The first thing I did we tell them that their great uncle died. I was sure to use the word “die” and not something softer like “passed away.” Kids don’t understand those words and they’re confusing. Once we established that he had died, they wanted to know how. Sass was really big on this and has asked me a few times since. I kept it simple and to her that he was really sick and had boo boos that the doctors couldn’t fix. We talked about how her boo boos were little boo boos and that she wouldn’t die from them.

Then she wanted to know where he was. We’re Christian, so I explained – according to our beliefs – that he was in heaven with his dad and was happy. She had more questions about that, and wanted to know if we could visit heaven, so I explained that no, when people go to heaven we don’t get to see them until we die and go to heaven.

I let her know if she had any more questions to let me know, and for the time being she was satisfied. In typical kid fashion, the next morning in the car she wanted to know if we get to take candy with us to heaven (post Halloween candy is on the brain). I told her yes, in heaven we have everything that makes us happy. “Does God have toys too?” she asked, completely amazed. It was actually pretty adorable.

Now that we’re here, I talked to them about the viewing. It’s open casket and I felt it was important to prepare them. They had a great uncle pass away about 3 years ago, so Buddy was 5 and remembers it, but Sass was just over 1. I let them know that they’ll see their great uncle in a casket, which is kind of like a bed, and that it will look like he’s sleeping, but he’s really not. Sass had a lot of questions about that. I remember when Buddy was 5 he wanted to know if he went up and touched his great uncle if he would get up and walk.

We also talked about how people would be really sad and some will be crying. I didn’t want them to walk in and get scared when they saw a lot of adults crying. When my husband told Buddy about his uncle he was crying and that made Buddy cry. He’s used to his dad being big and strong, and seeing him cry was a little disorienting for him. He figured if his dad is crying it must be really bad. When I talked to this kids about this Sass started crying, although I’m not sure why. She couldn’t tell us, but I do thing it scares her a bit as well.

Hopefully I’ve prepared them well enough for the viewing. Once we get through that I’ll talk to them about the funeral.

I do have to say they are brightening up their grandparents as well as their great grandmother and some of their great aunts and uncles. It’s nice to give them something else to focus on for a few minutes, to remember the good things about life while they’re grieving.

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