Death is one of those things that is indescribably difficult to deal with and to understand. Imagine trying to do it as a child who still believes in things like the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny. It’s nearly impossible. But, as parents it’s one of our toughest jobs. It’s tough because it’s painful and because there doesn’t seem to ever be the right words.
Finding the right words should come easy when you’re used to writing for a living, but that is not the case with something as fragile as death. You need kid gloves, no pun intended, to delicately explain to a child why someone has left this Earth. I am by no means an expert when it comes to this subject, but I’ve had to do it so many times already that I’m unfortunately becoming more used to the uncomfortable situation.
When someone they love dies, the hardest part is telling my kids they’re never going to see that person again. They’re never going to get or give a hug. They’re never going to hear that person’s voice. It’s heartbreaking to see their faces when it begins to sink in. And sink in it does. Although they may not understand how bodies are buried and souls go to heaven, they can understand the fact that they’ll never see someone again.
Then, of course, come the questions of why. Why did someone have to die? Why did they get sick? Why couldn’t the medicine fix their boo-boos? These are all questions none of us know. The best answer I can give is to be honest and admit that I don’t know why. As disappointing of an answer as that may be, it’s the truth. When it comes to a subject like death, the best thing we can do for our kids is to be honest. With that honesty comes the acceptance of letting them be sad. Parents don’t like to see their kids in pain or sad or crying. We always want to take their pain away and make them feel better. Sometimes we just can’t and that’s okay. What we can do is comfort them through their sadness and let them know it’s okay to be sad and to cry and to miss someone. It’s part of being human. It’s part of having emotions. My kids have seen me cry when someone dies because just like them, I’m sad. I don’t know if it makes them feel any better, but at least they know it’s normal and everyone is human…even moms.
While I let them see me cry, I also let them see me wipe away my tears and get up again. Hopefully, that is teaching them they can take their time to mourn, but at some point, they have to keep going, as difficult as it may be. Grief can’t consume you. I try to tell them that the person who died would not want them to be sad forever. They would want them to be happy and play and dance and do all those things that make them a kid. These words seem to work, at least for now. But, I also tell them you don’t forget about the person who died. We never forget. As parents, we can help our kids keep memories alive by maintaining traditions and continuing to do the things we used to do with the person who is no longer with us. Traditions don’t die with a person unless we let them. Kids should know that keeping traditions is how we keep loved ones with us always.
If death teaches us nothing else it is that life is fragile and tomorrow is not guaranteed. That’s a lesson we can all learn no matter how big or small.