How to explain death to a child: A guide

Yep, these books actually exist.  There is actually one titled “The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children.”  I am sure this one will be much better than any suggestions I could make, because I haven’t a clue how to do it.  Just when you think you are ahead of the game, or at least on target, your kids throw you a curveball and you are behind again.  The other day, mine was death and how to help my kids to understand it.  Sure, they understand that when they squish a bug that it’s dead, but what that means?  That’s another story.

It came up nonchalantly the other night at dinner.  I usually play music when it’s the three of us, sort of a relaxing mix while we eat.  Elvis came on (we were listening to oldies) and when I said he wasn’t around anymore, of course, my eldest asked why.  “Because he went away for awhile.”  Puzzled, they responded with, “where?”  What to say, what to say.  I grew up Catholic, so it was obvious my choice would be heaven, which I promptly answered with.  But what do I say when they ask what heaven is?  Sheesh.  It’s like the great inquisition!

But seriously.  How do you explain to your small children what it means to die?  You don’t want to go that route, because it’s depressing.  But also because it’s difficult to understand.  They aren’t sleeping, but they will never wake up and talk?  The bug is squished so it can’t move, but it can’t do anything else, either?  My eldest was too young to understand when my grandfather died what was happening.  I mean, they met and everything, but my eldest was only a little over a year when he died, so there was no need to explain it.   It is, however, something that they will come upon.  What is the best age to explain it to, based on development?  I guess I can’t say, because I am still trying to understand it myself.

What should you do when your kids ask questions about death?  Lie?  Hell, no.  That will come back to bite you in the ass.  I mean, yes, it’s okay to tell little white lies here and there but this is a whopper of a lie to tell, so steer clear of that.  Should you evade or ignore them?  Nope.  Then they will just turn into pains in the asses and ask “why?” to everything you suggest, so that will get old.  I would recommend what I had done: explain how they went away and won’t be able to come back.  If you get a “why?” to that, I like to use the simple, “because that’s what happens, I don’t know why.”

Ok.  So I haven’t really answered the question how to explain death.  I am not an expert in this, especially since my own depression issues flared tremendously because I hadn’t a clue how to deal with my own tradegies.  Treat lightly, I suppose.  I am using the “went away for awhile” and “we can’t see them anymore”.  When I start getting more in depth questions, I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.  I doubt I will use Why Did You Die?  or Life is Like the Wind books to help me, but maybe desperate times call for desperate measures?


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