Explaining Death to Children

One of the earliest posts I wrote is called Death- My Son Asked Me Not to Die. It is a short post about a discussion my son and I had about death in general, as well as our own mortality. It was a little odd reading it again.

Odd because I remember the discussion that prompted my writing about it like it was yesterday. It is only three years ago, but my son has grown so much in that time it feels like it was much longer ago.

It is not unexpected or surprising to see this growth. He is an elementary school student now and is exposed to more than just his own family. He sees our losses and hears stories about the deaths of his friends loved ones too.

He understands that all creatures have a lifespan. I am not sure how complete or comprehensive that understanding is, but it is there. In just a few days we’re going to have another discussion with him about death.

Next week we’ll send off another member of the family. It is going to be time to say goodbye to our dog. The time and date have been set. The moment I dread is approaching. The big fellow is failing. Every time I see him I hug and smell him because I know that soon I can’t.

It kills me to see him like this. He has so many little issues and the vet says that there really isn’t anything that can be done to improve his quality of life. It is old age. So the decision was made that it is not fair to let him go on this way. It has raised all sorts of issues in my head, but that is a different post.

Now I am busy trying to determine how to let the kids know. I want to prepare them, but I don’t really want to tell them all of the details. They are too young for that. But I can’t not say something. I don’t want them to be frightened and I feel badly because they love the big guy as much as the rest of us.

I feel badly because each time I see my friend I feel guilty about his situation. And I feel badly because I know that the children will be hurt. At the same time they need to learn this lesson. They need to learn about lifetimes and to understand that death is not to be feared. We shouldn’t run forward to meet it early, but we shouldn’t be so fearful of it either.

In the time that has passed between the first post and now there have been many other discussions of death. Many of those conversations stick out. I remember the time that my son asked me what I would do if someone killed him or his sister.

He told me that if that happened I should kill whomever killed them. Part of me smiled because I saw how protective he is of his little sister. When I am not there he’ll do what he can to stand in for me.

Part of me cried because it is so sad that he knows that these things can happen. The children should be able to grow up without worrying about such things.

It was a relatively short conversation because I don’t want him worrying about this kind of stuff. I reminded him that his parents and extended family will always protect him. I told him again and again that I loved him.

When he asked me why I said it three times I said that it was because I never want him to forget it. He smiled and hugged me. For a moment we stood there and time stood still.

And now here I am, a bit choked up about all of this. If I close my eyes I can hear my daughter’s laughter. She loves to chase the dog. She giggles as she runs. Her smile lights up her face. It is an image that is dear to me.

But it doesn’t give me the answers I am searching for. It is not going to make it any easier to say goodbye or to explain death. But, that is part of being a parent. I’ll figure it out and I’ll make sure that the kids still feel safe and loved.

And that is all I have to say about this….for now.

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  1. Jack's Shack August 19, 2007 at 5:12 am




    It is hard issue.

  2. Holy Hyrax August 17, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    Im still afraid of death and feel i am always worried about it.

    Good luck with you kids.

  3. Val August 17, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    It’s truly one of the hardest things to do – saying ‘goodbye’ to a pet. They are members of the family and in some ways it’s more painful, as you’re not sure how aware they are of their own situation.
    I give you a lot of credit, making a ‘date’ to do this, versus just doing it now. I don’t think I could have a future date in mind… way too hard.
    I’m sure you’ll know exactly what to say to the kids – as you usually do. From the heart, as you usually do, right?
    I’ll be thinking of you. and them.

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