Just the other night, as I got my son out of the tub and wrapped him up in a towel, he asked me a question I wasn’t prepared to answer. You see, we were innocently talking about his upcoming birthday and how he would be turning 5 years old next month when the conversation got serious. Way more serious of a topic than I was prepared to discuss that night. I didn’t even know this topic was on his radar. He looked up at me and asked, “Mom, how old are you?” To which I replied, “36.” Next, he asked, “how old is Daddy?” To which I said, “42.” I could see a worried look on his face. As he sat in my lap, wrapped in the towel, his eyes filled with tears and he threw his arms around me and said, “Mommy, I don’t want you to get old and die!”
Actually, this was the perfect time for me to discover what my son knew or did not know as it related to death. There was no better time to uncover his misconceptions, fears and worries and help him by providing information, comfort and being understanding. Of course, part of me wanted to tell him not to worry and everything would be okay, but I knew that would be lying and not addressing his fears and concerns would lead to more worry for him. My heart wanted to jump out my chest because I could feel his fear as he cried those tears and hugged me so tight.
I wrapped him in my arms and hugged him tighter and tried to comfort him, honestly not sure exactly what to do or say. I immediately thought back to when I was about 6 years old, and my great grandmother had passed away. I remember crying in my mom’s bed that night, face down, head under the pillow. Sure, part of me was crying because my great grandmother had died, but mostly I sobbed those tears because I had come to the realization that night that one day, my own mother was going to die also.
I understood the fear he had inside his little body, and my heart truly ached for him.
I wasn’t brave enough to admit those fears to my own mom when I was 6 years old. Part of me was glad that Cooper felt he could confide in me about this scary topic. This was a time for me to be open, honest and comfortable with my own feelings and allow him to do the same. I explained to Cooper that everyone dies: trees, plants, bugs and even animals. I told him both mommy and daddy expect to live until we are very old. I went on to tell him that I was happy he told me how he was feeling because when I was around his age, I thought the same things about my own mommy (Granny), but was to scared to talk to her which caused me to worry. I wiped the tears from his face and my own face. I hugged him and kissed him and asked him if he had any more questions.
Of course, there were more questions and I answered them the best I could. In our house, Christianity leads the way, so we talked about Heaven and how Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins and how he rose again and if you believe this, you will live in Heaven forever.
I’m not sure I handled things correctly, but I did what I felt was best as a mom in that particular moment and circumstance. Nobody gives you a “how to” talk to your child about death and dying. It would be nice to have been able to prepare, but that wasn’t an option and I didn’t feel it was something I could put on the back burner as his tears flowed and flung his arms around me so tight looking for answers.
Death is a natural part of life.
There is no easy way to talk about this subject with a child. There are many ways you can approach this subject; however, it is important to remember that circumstances will be different and all children are unique. If your child is asking or concerned about death, I personally don’t feel you should ignore the topic as this could cause more stress, fear and worry. Be open and honest, and be prepared to be a little uncomfortable. Nobody wants to talk to their children about death and dying; however, death is inescapable.
If you have had to explain death to a child, how did you approach it? What resources can you recommend?