Culture & Entertainment

6 things I learned talking to my son about death

By: Jennifer Gruden
Canadian Living
Culture & Entertainment

6 things I learned talking to my son about death

By: Jennifer Gruden

Boy, I don't know about you but yesterday was a hard one due to the Boston Marathon tragedy. My 7 year old, Noah, caught the news on the radio and wanted to know all about it. Because I ran my first 10k in the fall and have been talking about other races and how he can meet me there at the finish line, I think the fact that it was a marathon drove it home especially. But it may also be his age. Because my eldest baby passed away my husband and I found ourselves confronting the question of death and dying early. We've chosen to keep her picture up, and to continue to visit her grave on her birthday and her death day, and we have included both Noah and now Liam in that. It has, however, meant talking about death more than perhaps the usual, and then we have also lost family members. So here's what I have learned and which I tried to apply last night: 1. Balancing truth and comfort is hard My honest answer to the question of "what happens after we die" is, quite frankly, "I don't know." However for some members of my family it is "we go to Heaven." My son is definitely comforted by the concept of Heaven, and there is time to let him know about my doubts when he's older...if we ever need to get into it. 2. Don't talk too much Further to the point above, my son asked me again where Emily is. I got into the concept of Heaven and then he said "no, is the cemetery to the EAST or to the WEST of our house?" So...there you go, answer the questions you're asked and not the ones you're worried about. 3. Pay attention afterwards When my son was about 3, we attended a funeral for a member of our extended family that was a large Catholic mass. A few weeks afterwards I was playing him the Sesame Street video of Andrea Bocelli singing to Elmo. My son went very, very quiet. Was he discovering a passion for opera? No. When I asked him if he was okay he burst into tears and said he didn't want Elmo to die. Because...the last time anyone had sung classically was at the funeral. I was very glad to have caught the moment...even if I then had to come up with a way to prove that a Muppet was alive. (I played a different video.) And we talked about how most people die when they are very, very old...and not when they are sung to. 4. Be prepared to get into the details For some reason my details-obsessed child, when he was around 6, really wanted to know all about Emily's coffin. Where did we get it, how was it built, what happens to it under the ground and so on. I found that discussion really hard because it made me so sad in a visceral way all over again. Which brings me to - 5. Be emotionally honest I believe that kids generally know if their parents are upset or angry or calm. I want my son to be able to feel and acknowledge his feelings, without always making every single decision based on those feelings. So from that standpoint, I was fine with saying that the conversation about the coffin made me feel sad and a little angry about Emily, and that I would be happy to answer more questions later but I wanted to have a cup of tea first. 6. Don't be afraid to say you don't know Sometimes in conversation with my son I have gotten to a point where I simply don't know. Rather than making things up, I've found it simplest to say I don't know. I wish I did have all the answers for my child but about why some people get hurt...or in the case of the Boston Marathon, why some people hurt others, I don't know. It's hard to sit together with my child in the face of that sometimes, and sometimes, like last night discussing the bombing, I could tell he really wanted me to know why people plant bombs But I didn't, so we had to settle for a hug and to get the table set for dinner. For more see Colleen's great post about remembering the good stuff!
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6 things I learned talking to my son about death

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