How do I talk to my children about death? 2

There you are in the car . . .

Grandma has passed away and you are on your way to her house to gather with family, wash her body, prepare her for vigil. Your 5 year old asks you: How did grandma die?

You think back to last week’s post. You have a few immediate thoughts:

Ok, so I get it that its a good thing to be open with my children about death but what do I actually SAY? I mean, would I say uncle Bob was murdered or George died in his sleep? Or that grandma’s heart stopped beating? Won’t this worry my kids? How do I translate adult truths into something age appropriate? Do I tell them some schlock-ey thing about how they’re in heaven now? Or that death isn’t actually real?

You’re on the spot.

You know your kid is going to remember this and what you say will either soothe or warp him. You wonder what the right thing to say is. You are already charged up just with being so close to death yourself. You worry about saying the wrong thing.

Well, I’m here to tell you, you can’t say the wrong thing . . .

if its true.

I mean, children are smart, especially when it comes to reading their parents. If you cover up the truth and just give them culturally sanctioned fluff, they’ll know it on some level. They want the truth!

So, what’s true about death?

As you know, it’s hard to say.

One thing I know for sure is that it is a mysterious journey.

I also know it is a powerful teacher.

In Mexico they celebrate the dead at the threshold of Fall and Winter.

Here in N. America we have the remnants of a similar celebration at Halloween, but in Mexico they really go all out with altars and all night vigils, masks and processions.

Rudolf Steiner talks about the Rainbow Bridge, about how when we come into the world we come in across the Rainbow Bridge and so I assume, according to him, we cross back over it when we return. That story really works in our house. My four year old can really grock that, and there is something sweet in it for me too. Death is not a stranger.

We have all crossed that bridge before.

I find that comforting.

In the Bahai tradition bodies are supposed to be buried, returned to the earth to build her fertility. I also find that idea comforting and my daughter loves thinking that her dead cat is becoming the hydrangea. That brings me to the other thing I know about death:

Its a celebration – personal, intimate, and communal.

Take a moment right now to get clear about three things:

  • What do you KNOW about death? In its most raw form, what can you say for sure?
  • Find one story or tradition about death that you find comforting or inspiring
  • Think of one thing you can do to honor death as Winter approaches (Halloween) as well as when it actually comes.

Now you know what to say.

Just start saying it ~ even before you need it. Children feel safe when something feels familiar. Make your death story a part of daily life and when the real thing comes along they will already know the truth, have added their own wisdom along the way, and be comforted by your simple 3-part family tradition.

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  1. Joy says:

    Krista, I agree with you. I have always been open with death. There is something that makes me smile when I think of spirits in our bodies that leave and cross back over to heaven. My children have all experienced some one in our family passing away and we don’t shy them away from it or try to hide it. I myself would love a celebration when I leave!

    • krista says:

      Hey Joy…. I wonder: What will you do, or have done, for your celebration when you go? What will be the elements, the music, the flowers, the place?…. I love hearing about people’s end of life dreams!


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