Talking to Children about Death

Thursday, May 08, 2008
I knew I'd talk about death eventually with my children, but I didn't expect the conversation to happen so soon. Samuel is just over three now, and while I was weeding yesterday, he came up and asked me, "Mommy, do people die?" I decided I needed to answer him honestly, so I explained that people do die, but that he didn't need to worry, because it usually happens when people grow old. He went back to digging for worms, and didn't say anything more about it.

This afternoon, he was playing with play-dough at the kitchen table when he asked me, "Mommy, were you just pretending yesterday when you said that people die?"

I've always been honest with Samuel, so I gently said, "No, I wasn't pretending, Samuel. We all are born, we live, and one day, we die."

His chin started quivering, he laid on the floor, put his head in his arms and burst into tears, sobbing openly and saying over and over, "Mommy, I don't want to die, I don't want to die."

It was the most heartbreaking moment I've experienced so far as a Mother. It brought tears to my own eyes. I took him on my lap and held him for awhile, reassuring him that he didn't need to worry, because most of the time, we all start out like Juniper, live a full and happy life, and die when we are old. He pleaded with me to tell him that I was only pretending, but I just couldn't lie and say that I was.

I feel like Samuel lost a little bit of his innocence today.

It was a tough conversation for me as a parent to have with him. I could hardly bear to think about my own death, not to mention my children's. I told Samuel that I will always be with him, and I hope that I will, at least until he no longer relies on me so heavily.

I don't personally remember thinking seriously about death until I was in my early twenties and one of my close friends, Josh Arnold, was killed instantly in a tragic car accident. I lived and felt like I was immortal until his death. I'm not sure why Samuel is asking about death right now, but I feel like it's my responsibility to answer his questions with honesty and, because of his age, with simplicity.

And so my journey in raising Samuel and Juniper continues . . .

Josh Arnold, Dorm 3 Party, 1997, three years before his death.


Claudia said...

I always told you guys about death---you were very aware of it when Grandad died and I always told you that we would not be seperated because we would be together in Heaven.
I think it is sad that Samuel is 'so AWARE' of it so young. I wonder if someone at school or a friend of his has been talking about it.
It is so SAD -- when you said Samuel lost some of his innocence
yesterday.....but it is very true! It is also a very sad part of life -- not for the one who is gone and has gone to Heaven-- but for the ones that are left behind.
I have a very, very good book at home her that talks about dying ( it is from a funeral home) and it is for little ones. I will look for it and give it to you.
Precious Samuel and Juniper!!!!
I HATE it when little children have to lose their innonence.....especially when it is earlier then you would like.
Love you,

Betsy said...

Loss of innocence is the one part of raising my children that I look forward to the very least. As a Mama, I want so much to protect them from all the harsh realities of life...and yet, that's completely irrational and not beneficial to them either since they need to learn how to handle things. Sigh.

Jeremy said...

What a hard conversation! You did really well with Samuel. I'm not looking forward to when Ian starts asking those questions.

Great picture of Josh... always smiling.

Aviva said...

Oh, how heart breaking!!!

But Karli, you did a great job in your answers. I don't think I could have done half as well.

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