On Saying Goodbye (or How to Talk to Your Kids about Death)

Disclosure: This is a post in a series of sponsored posts as a Brand Ambassador for the ARKANSAS BETTER BEGINNINGS program.  I truly believe in their mission and everything expressed will be my own opinion! #ARBB

Last month my beautiful grandmother passed away.
At the age of 92, she had a long and beautiful life, not exempt from hardships and heartache, but mostly full of beauty and joy.  At her funeral her grandchildren all had their children present, (ten from ages 9 months to 17 years.) The funeral was a beautiful way to celebrate her life, and help us mourn her loss.  Her illness and passing brought up many of those hard questions that kids ask about death.

Talking to kids about death is never easy, but not as hard as we (as adults) make it out to be. Children are always smarter and stronger than we give them credit for.  And let’s face it- part of being alive is knowing that we must all die one day.

When we heard how ill she was, my youngest son asked me “Mommy, do you think she will die?”  I had to be honest and tell him ” I really don’t know, baby, she is very sick and fragile.” My twelve year old son, who was not in on the conversation, only knew that she was ill, and so when we heard that she had passed away he took the news much harder than his younger brother.

My own father passed away a week before I turned seven.  I remember vividly him explaining his illness to me and telling me he wouldn’t be here much longer.  I was sad but also relieved that he had told me the truth.  I still remember feeling grateful for that.  Also, I remember thinking that the adults that tip-toed around him and the topic were all crazy.   I remember thinking, “Why don’t they just talk to him (and me) like they normally do?  He’s dying but not dead yet.”   The honesty my parents showed me as a child helped me in his passing.  I mourned but was not surprised or devastated at the funeral like my cousins who had only been told that he was sick.  

 So how do you talk to kids about death?

  1. Be honest.  (Use age appropriate measures but don’t make up things to pad the situation.  Saying “Grandma is asleep” is not going to help.)
  2. Answer the questions as they come.  (Don’t give out so much info your kids are overwhelmed.  Answer their specific questions as they ask them.) 
  3. Show them how you deal with pain and let them express theirs. (Cry, write down your feelings, pray, talk, cry)
  4. Make teachable moments.  (Give honest answers for illnesses or aging etc. Use your personal beliefs on what happens after we die, the soul, God, etc. as they come along.) Read some books about death and dying together to help in understanding.  
  5. Love and cherish them.  
I was so glad we took our four children to their great-grandma’s funeral.  I believe it helped them to see her life celebrated and to let them mourn her collectively.  Knowing that they weren’t alone in their sorrow helps them begin to ease the pain.  
Some great books to read together:
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein 
  • The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages by Leo Buscaglia
  • Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs by Tomie de Paola
  • I Miss You by Pat Thomas
  • Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children by Bryan Mellonie
  • What’s Heaven? by Maria Shriver
For more great information on parenting and child care please visit:
More on talking to kids about death: 

On Funerals for Hamsters and Spring

My boys are very sensitive and a bit morbid at times I think (maybe that’s just a boy thing.) J has started the “I don’t want you to die Mommy” thing and asking about death and dying and God etc. that happens when kids turn four (at least in my experience.) So today, Choo Choo train is truly dead and we had to have a hamster funeral. I expected real tears, but there were none. Max was really sad and made up a little “burying the hamster” song to sing at the service, Jac joined in and it was very touching (except for the almost 12 yr old sister laughing in the background.) Then- “Let’s go jump on the trampoline” could be heard.
Here is the grave they made for his furriness…

Spring is making it’s entrance, and it is a beautiful day (even for a hamster funeral.)

Going to Carolina…(remembering Meme)- January 22, 2008

Marjorie Scarborough 1918-2008 (With her 4 oldest grandkids- Steve, Meme holding me, Ginna, and Margaret in front.)
My grandmother, Marjorie Jean Mann Scarborough passed away on Saturday night. She was a strong woman, and even at 89, and having been ill awhile her passing seems a bit unexpected somehow. Maybe because hers is the first death in our family since my father I think, which was in 1977. (How fortunate we’ve been.) Meme was a great grandma and I looked forward to our Saturday phone calls or visits for a long time.She taught me so much about unexpected things. She loved to tell funny stories and poems or sing little ditties like her great-grandpa did.
“I’ll tell you a story about Annie Laurie
and now my story’s begun, I’ll tell you another about her brother and now my story is done.”
Meme could get anything she wanted out of life I think. I saw her talk us onto a nuclear sub onetime because my little brother wanted to see what it looked like. It was NOT a ship open to the public, but somehow she managed to get us on and we even got to look through the periscope to find our car. She made friends in every walk of life. She told me how she’d nursed in Vancouver on the docks- even helped prostitutes in the floating opium dens deliver their babies. She had friends in Panama that had houses on every continent, and friends who sold molas on the streets.

I’m grateful that I had her for a grandma, even if she did switch my legs a time or two. I’m grateful I got to hold her hand one last time (thank you Maradee.) I know she is on a wonderful journey now- “Going to Carolina” as she would have said.
I love you Meme.

Begin Again- January 5, 2008

I’m attempting to start this blog (again.)  I tried on blogspot but couldn’t spend the time that it took to figure out all the bells and whistles.  We’ll see how this works! (Mac’s are so much easier! I love iWeb!)  
Yesterday was a hard day.  It started (or never ended) with two days of no sleep.  Amanda, mom’s dog, has been staying with us while mom’s away in Arizona.  She was 15+ and not in the best shape lately.   She woke up Wednesday morning and her front legs were stiff and cold.  I took her to the vet and she gave her some steroids and said it was probably a stroke.  On Thursday she improved a bit, and was able to move them stiffly, but not stand up without falling over.  We had two nights of her crying every ten to twenty minutes for me.  Yesterday started at the vet’s again, and we had the sad news that there wasn’t anything she could do that would get her back to “normal.”  So… we had to make the decision that was best for her.  I had the kids with me and was really worried about how they would react.  We had to put our dog (Amanda’s sister) Matty, to sleep in October.  
Max said, “Mommy, I am going to be the person who lives the longest life ever.” (He obsesses over death and dying…) I said, “Well, there is a reason for everything, baby.  We are all part of God, so we never really die all the way.”   He smiled and said “That’s good.  And now Amanda’s in heaven with her daddy Foster and mommy Amanda and sister Matty and they are playing.”
I think he’s going to be okay.
Well, we had the Cookie Rally, the big start of the Girl Scout Cookie sale last night too.  It is a “lock-in” type event held at the UALR Student Union and goes until midnight!   We ended up with only four girls and two adults going, so it was a manageable group.  I didn’t think it was much fun as lines were soooo long and there wasn’t anything different from last year.  I think the girls had some fun regardless and that IS what it’s all about!   I hope they listen to some of our suggestions for next year. 
Well, I’m off to take the Christmas tree all the way down and begin this new year again…