Aside from explaining about sex, death discussions are the most difficult to have with children, in my opinion.
My parents had to explain death to me when my maternal grandpa passed away the year I turned 7. Afterward, I thought his shiva was a party where everyone ate lots of food and talked about him. My (maternal) grandma became so upset when I called it a party, and I didn’t understand why at the time. That same year, our dog died and I didn’t understand that she wasn’t just sleeping. It took a long time for that to register with me as something more permanent. I think my parents always treated death as something peaceful and inevitable, so that made the topic easier for me to handle.
Recently E asked where Papa Morrie, my late paternal grandpa, was and I told him he lived far away from my grandma now, but was in sh’mayim (the sky) with Hashem (G-d). After giving it some thought, he said “Nana needs to get me a new grandpa!”
Of my husband and myself, I think I’ll end up being the one to explain death to my kids, but I’ve been handling it with kid gloves so far. For a while, I didn’t tell E about my grandpa’s passing two years ago because I didn’t feel he was ready to understand it yet. Later, we talked about my maternal grandparents, both who passed away long before he was born. He kept asking about my paternal grandparents and I finally had to explain that one of them was living with Hashem, along with my maternal grandparents. He sometimes asks about great-grandparents so I had to explain that both my husband’s and my own also lived with Hashem. According to E, Hashem lives in California because that’s very far away.
I still think the concept of Heaven is not registering with him yet, but he does understand that my grandfather is no longer living with my grandmother, and that’s probably enough for now.
How do you talk to your young kids about death? How have they handled it?
About Melissa A
Melissa A. and her husband have 2 young sons, E and M, and a new baby daughter. Melissa's son E has hearing loss and wears a cochlear implant. Melissa works as an administrative assistant for a non-profit and also runs a bullying prevention group and a book-related fan group, in addition to blogging for Empowering Parents. You can check out Melissa’s personal blog here.