On death and dying

She walked into my room with the old hooded towel from her baby days on her head. Her fist flew to her eyes, a sure sign of impending tears. I said, “Hey, what’s wrong?” in alarm and pulled her onto the bed. (But not onto my lap because she was in her wet swimsuit, having just returned from the pool.)

She cried, then, rubbing her eyes. I ran my hand over her legs. “Are you hurt? Did you fall?” She shook her head. “What’s wrong?” She sniffed some more.

Then, finally, “I don’t want to be dead!” she said.

“You aren’t going to die,” I assured her.

“And I don’t want you to die!” she said.

“I’m not going to die until I’m very old.” Perhaps a lie, but I offered it anyway.

“Like great-grandma?”

“Yes. Great-grandma is still alive and she’s 101.”

“What about my regular grandma?” she asked.

“She’s alive, too.”

Then, fresh tears and, “I don’t want to die!”

“You aren’t going to die.”

“Because children don’t die?” she asked.

I paused. Then chose to lie. “That’s right. Children don’t die. You’ll live for a long, long, long time. Probably.”

The In-Laws buy

Her tears had stopped by then, comforted by my lies. My husband said Grace had been talking to a little girl at the pool and the conversation was about death. Grace could not stop talking about it when she got home, and apparently on the drive home from the pool, she carried a terror of dying which she could only hand to me in person.
During her bath:

“Mom, what would your mouth and eyes look like when you’re dead?”

“Mom, what does God look like?”

“Mom, are you going to die?”

“Mom, when are we going to die?

I believe in heaven. I believe in God. I believe that death is not the end, only a doorway to another life. But looking in the blue eyes of my 4-year old daughter, I offered lies because I can’t bear for her to consider a loss that great.

I’m sure we’ll be talking about death for days and weeks to come. I can only hope that no one in our family–including 101-year old Great Grandma–dies anytime soon. Or ever, really, as long as I’m hoping and wishing.

* * *

I should note that we often talk about death around here . . . I am matter-of-fact about the topic. My kids know that my dad died when he was 47 and they’ve asked about that over and over again. But yesterday, she was so worried about dying RIGHT THEN that I felt it was not appropriate to have a rational discussion. We will talk about it again soon, I am sure, and than I will clarify . . . I say this in response to the comments advising me to be truthful. I have been in the past and under normal circumstances, I am forthright on this topic, but yesterday? Yesterday I chose to assure rather than offer facts. (Geez, do I sound defensive or what?)

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On death and dying

15 thoughts on “On death and dying

  1. “I’m sure we’ll be talking about death for days and weeks to come.”

    or maybe years. The fear of dying was my biggest issue as a child, and sometimes it still gets me. Sometimes I scream at God about this whole deal, that we have to die. For me, the fear of death was really a fear that maybe God wasn’t real, that maybe heaven wasn’t real.

    My own kids have dealt with it too. When I have shared ways that God has miraculously intervened in my life it brought them great comfort and the fears stopped. When I remember those times for myself it has the same effect on me.

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  2. I’m not trying to start an argument but how do we explain the death of a child (or a loved one) to a child?

    I’ve never found a good way, even with kids as old as mine. No matter what I say or how reassuring I try to be, the fear is still there.

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  3. My daughter went through this phase when she was about 3 1/2. Our friends had just lost their 3 day old baby. My parents lost there dog. And other people in our lives (but not close ones) had died.

    After weeks of this, finally dh told her that she wasn’t going to die until she was really really old. And she paused and said, “Mom is really really old and she’s not dead yet.”

    Yeah, thanks.

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  4. We have had this conversation so many times at my house. Too many to count. We have lost both old and young in our family, and walked through deep grief.

    My five-year-old boys went through a stage of being obsessed w/ death. In the end, we talk a lot about heaven and Jesus and His plan for each of us.

    We pray that God would alleviate our fears, and then we end with “God wants us to focus on living, and not dying. Only He knows when we’ll die…we don’t need to worry about it.”

    Because we have been so impacted by death, the boys also know that if my husband and I both die, their Aunt and Uncle will care for them.

    Not easy conversations to be sure!! And there is no judgement here for the way you handled things with your daughter. There is plenty of time to sort things out as she gets older.

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  5. Susan says:

    All you can do is pray that her fears are calmed for now…and they will be. You’re a great mom and sometimes little white lies are the best solution. Its our way of protecting our kids and I believe with all my heart that God understands those moments completely.

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  6. Awww Mel…. I had this same conversation with Sammi a few months ago. Could just change the names, only difference is that I told her some kids died if very sick…

    The kids did have some experience with death… when their bunny Miffy died. (Actually two of them died, but the other died while they were sleeping, so I told them when they woke that “Hoppy was sick, so I brought him to a farm where he would feel better.” I did fess up a few months ago after the “do people die” talk. She went out to the bunnies grave & placed a tiny carrot on top. Then asked if she could have a shovel to check. Yikes, I think I still have the sandbox shovels hidden, lol…

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  7. B says:

    I don’t want to be all, “Parent THIS way.” but you have to have that conversation before some kid gets hold of her. My brother-in-law passed away, so my niece tells all her new friends how her daddy died in his sleep next to her mommy and on and on. She doesn’t get to the part about heaven or Jesus because the kid is usually screaming crying by that time.

    I don’t think my kids are afraid of dying, and I pray they never will be. But I don’t think that lack of fear has anything to do with our parenting, just a blessing.

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  8. We have been on this topic for almost two years now. My great grandmother passed away and that was the beginning of it. I chose not to lie. I told them that everyone dies eventually. I told him that most people don’t die unless they are very old or very sick. I told him that I don’t expect to die until he is a grown up and doesn’t need me any more, after I meet my grandchildren. I told him that sometimes young people and babies die, but this is the exception not the rule. I told him he probably wouldn’t die until he was very old as well.

    This summer two more elderly family members have passed away, and a friend suffered a miscarriage and I’m glad I told the truth because they seem to be dealing with it pretty nonchalantly in the wake of our two year dialogue on the subject.

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  9. Oh, Mel.

    Our kids, (all adults now) dealt more with the deaths of childhood classmates than with the deaths of older people.

    Three of them were car accidents. One, a fire.

    Thankfully, they were older than four at the time. At four, one just has to consider what THAT particular child can handle.

    I didn’t handle those four deaths well at all. These were children MY KIDS age who were alive and healthy one minute and in an instant were dead.

    Even I couldn’t explain that to myself.

    Thankfully, I know about not mourning like someone who has no hope. I mourned. But I had hope.

    I hate death.

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  10. My children have experience a lot of death in their short lives and I actually think that has helped them to not fear it. When we go to the cemetery, we talk about how we keep the bodies there and put a rock on top to remember that person. The reason the bodies are there is the people have gone to heaven where they get a new body, so since they don’t need their old body anymore, they just leave it on earth. It can be kind of fun to talk about what the new body will be like, actually. What color hair and eyes and skin? How tall? And what kind of cool things can the new body do? Fly? Do flips? Walk through walls? (Mine will definitely be skinny!)

    Another thing I’ve done to comfort my children is to read from Revelation 4 and 5, which describes God’s throne in Heaven. We drew a map of what the throne looks like (right there in my Bible) and then we marked the place where we will all meet (which is the same place we sit in church, by the way). The first person to arrive will save a place for the rest of us. And we all decided the first person will never be lonely because a) s/he is with God and Jesus and b) s/he will be with all our friends and relatives who already went there.

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  11. Amelia says:

    Oh my gosh, did this post come at a good time for me. We are dealing with this right now at my house. One of my cousins was buried today. She was only 37 and died from self inflicted injuries. How do I explain that one?

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  12. I would have said (and I have said) all the things that you did to a child that young. I also reassure my kids that we’ll all be in heaven together one day, and I think that helps them because death can seem so isolating. Also, I remember hearing once that heaven doesn’t know time the way we do. So, when we get there, in the blink of an eye, we’re with our loved ones. I admit to my children (but the youngest is 10, so it’s different) that the death of a children is so very sad and that fortunately it doesn’t happen as often as older people passing. And I tell them that I’m not afraid to die because I know I’ll be with my mother again.

    My daughter recently told me that when she dies, please bury her in her bathing suit, because she’s heading straight for the beach. I laughed, but I wanted to cry, too. Children are so innocent.

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  13. We’ve been having talks about death and dying and what happens to people afterwards for ages. Sometimes my son wants to talk about it again and again, right now he’s thinking more about other things. For a time he was afraid of going to the cemetery. Right now he seems to have found a kind of equilibrum. “People die and then their bodies are buried and their soul goes somewhere else.”

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  14. Lilly says:

    My son currently is obessed with someone killing him or
    Someone killing me and my husband and so it worried me someone had abused him sexually he wanted to only sleeping in between my husband and I when we quizzed him about someone touching he would keep upset and continue to talk about death we went to a counselor they said OCD anxiety. Any thoughts I am desperate and so sad for my child

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