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My Blog


Death - When tragedy strikes a family. Talking to your kid about death

Posted on June 10, 2013 at 2:39 PM Comments comments ()
Death.  It happens to all of us, some sooner than later.  Some before our time is up.  I have had loss in my life, a mother, a brother, grandparents and a beloved pet.  I have talked about the loss of these people with my daughter, explaining that they are no longer with us and they are in heaven (if you don't share this belief my intent is not to offend you).  With the exception of our pet, all had gone before my daughter was born, so the concept of death for her, being 5, was probably not a real thing.  Unfortunately, the non real concept has become real for her and her friend. 
A couple of weeks ago as we were preparing for the end of the school year and starting to make summer plans for summer camps, play dates and vacation, I received information that one of my daughters friends father suddenly died.  Tragic really, he was only 37 years old.  All of a sudden the little girl was present in our life more than usual for 48 hours, as she stayed with a closer friend, while her mother tried to figure out funeral preparation and how to break the very sad news to her daughter, that her father was no longer with them and she would never ever see him again.  One minute he is there, the next gone. I talked with my friend about how she should discuss the loss of her husband and her child's father with her daughter.  She at first said she would say he was sick.  I thought it best to tell the truth as it was an accident and a tragic one at that.  If she went on to say he was sick, and her dad never showed signs of being sick before, her daughter would think that every time someone gets sick, they might die.  I went on to share with her the story of my brothers death and my niece, who was also 5 when my brother died. She saw my brother sick for a very long time, so of course she understood being sick made him die and it all made sense.  In the end, my friend went with the truth as best as she could.  I am still not sure the daughter fully understands this yet.  She keeps asking when she will see him again and when he will be home.  Very sad.
I knew next I would have to talk with my daughter about death.  I really did not want to have this discussion with my daughter as I feared it would bring up all kinds of questions and fears in her with her own daddy and the possibility of losing him.  But, I knew I had to, because if I didn't tell her, one of her friends would say something and then even more questions and fears might arise. I thought about how I was going to talk with my daughter for a few days until I could not wait any longer because my husband and I were going to the wake to pay our respects.  Both of us wanted to go and we had no one to watch my daughter, so we had to take her with us and in case something got said to her while we were there, it had to be done. It was a busy day for us, but I somehow managed to have the talk with her.  I was brief and to the point.  I explained why her friend was around more than usual.  I told my daughter that her father had an accident and he had died and went to heaven, the same as her grandmother and uncle.  That her friend would be very sad because her daddy would not be around anymore.  That when she sees her again, if her friends needed a big hug, she should give her one and tell her how sorry she was.  I asked if she had any questions and she said no.  I felt confident that she understood and all would be ok.   Even though she went into the funeral home with us, she did not go into the viewing room and thank goodness her friend was not there.  We each paid our respects while the other stayed with our daughter in the lobby.  She had no idea what we were doing there and no one said anything to her.  I personally was not ready to have my daughter view a person in an open casket.  I have heard stories of friends that did go to funerals as kids and it did not sit well with them.  I know though that for everyone it is a personal decision. 
The next day a friend and I were helping our friend get her house ready for the after service get together to celebrate husband and father.  This was going to be the true test of our discussion and if all would be ok with my daughter.  We arrived at my friends house and my daughters other friend was there, first words out of her mouth was that their friends dad died, my daughter responded that she knew and nothing else was said, even as their friend came home after the burial.  All seemed to be ok and accepted for my daughter.  I was glad to know that.  The day proceeded and the girls played for a bit and all seemed ok.   Then a couple of weeks went by and my daughter and I were shopping at the grocery and out of nowhere in the frozen food section, my daughter asked me, how we knew her friends dad was actually dead.  I was taken a back because it came out of nowhere, at least for me, for her maybe not.  I told her that they knew and we would discuss later.  I had to think again of how to handle this and later that day I did.  I explained about paramedics, ambulances and the like.  I told her that they go through testing to test their pulse and hearts and if there is no pulse or heartbeat, they know that the person has died.  She seemed to accept that answer.  I now know that this might not be the last questions I get from her, nor do I want it to be if she has more questions.  
It has taken me a few weeks to get over the pain, questions, loss, sorrow and the reality myself and I expect it will take even longer.  A reminder again that life is too short and you never know when your time is up and you really, really have to make the best of everyday, living life to it's fullest, appreciating the small things.  The laughter of your child, the love, the firsts, the constant questions over and over again, being patient and enjoying every moment.  Letting go of the things that don't matter, the person who cut you off on the freeway, the rude person at the grocery, the fact that you forgot to do something important.  Make the best of it.  Make the time and take the time to be there for yourself and your kid(s) everyday.  After all, all we have is today, this moment. All of my best, Dyan 
What I learned:  That it is never easy to talk about death and understand death whether it is expected or not, being open with your kid is the best way to handle even the most uncomfortable discussions and be patient and expect questions even after the dust has settled.
Again, if you don't believe in heaven the content of this post is in no way meant to offend anyone or their belief systems.