How I Talk to My Child About Death

girl and toddler walking at the shore

“How did you tell your child that their grandpa passed away, and how do you keep your dad’s memory alive with your son?”

These are the questions I get asked most frequently about my grief journey. I know from firsthand experience that it can be SO HARD to have these conversations with your child or children. I also know that it can be done and that you can finds ways to keep your loved one’s memory alive for posterity. Here is how I’ve had these heartbreaking conversations with my son and some examples of how I attempt to have the legacy of my father live on in my family.

How did you tell your child that their grandpa passed away?

When my dad passed away, my son had just turned two years old. Since he was so young, I didn’t deem it necessary to immediately sit him down and tell him that his papa had passed away. Thankfully, my in-laws were able to care for my son while I was finalizing funeral arrangements and all the other logistics that come with death and for those first couple days he was very content to be playing at their house. However, when we would visit my parents’ house, Blake would notice his papa’s absence and would ask questions like, “Where is papa?” and “Why isn’t papa here with us?” I knew this conversation would arise organically and it was time to tell my son that his papa had passed away and what that exactly means.

My parenting style has always been to treat my son like the little human that he is. And whether we are talking about why the sky is blue, or the reason I can’t go into the men’s restroom with him, I always have a conversation with him just like I would an older kid or an adult. So when he asked about his papa, I calmly told my son that his papa was in Heaven. Since we are Christians, I attempted to explain what Heaven is, and how Blake will be with his papa again one day. I also mentioned that Blake can still talk to his papa whenever he wants and that Papa is always with him – protecting him and guiding him throughout his life journey. Blake did not ask any questions after my explanation, and just began playing with his toys again. The conversation wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

Since this initial conversation, we have experienced other deaths in our family. I’ve had this conversation with my son multiple times and I stick to the same talk track. Honestly, I was worried that Blake would start to resent Heaven. However,  when letting Blake know that another loved one has passed away, our son is now finding comfort that many loved ones are all together now. In fact, when Blake’s goldfish recently passed away, my son looked up at me excitedly and said, “Mom! Don’t worry – Papa is taking care of Everest and Zuma now.” In moments like this, I feel like Blake has grasped the concept of Heaven and I know that he will be okay.

“In moments like this, I feel like Blake has grasped the concept of Heaven and I know that he will be okay. “

How do you keep your dad’s memory alive with your son?

Although Blake was only two when his papa passed away, Blake has many memories of his grandfather. Perhaps I have just done a good job weaving my dad into our everyday conversations, but I truly believe that Blake still has actual memories of my father and I am going to do everything I can for him to hold on to those memories. Either way, I do think that my son still has a strong affinity towards my dad and that is extremely important to me.

“I truly believe that Blake still has actual memories of my father and I am going to do everything I can for him to hold on to those memories.”

An example of how I weave my dad into our conversations happened just the other night. We were eating popsicles after I completed a 7 mile run. Blake chose a banana popsicle and I looked at him and said, “Do you know who else likes banana popsicles?” Blake thought about it for a second and shook his head. “Papa LOVED banana popsicles! Those were his favorite!” I exclaimed. And when we pray each night, we still pray for Papa.

How have you handled these situations? 

Telling a child about the loss of a loved one and keeping their memory alive are definitely difficult topics to discuss, but they are a natural part of life. And just like with every season of my life, I have attempted to handle this situation and these discussions in a practical and calm way – and with lots of love.

Have you had to tell your child or children about the loss of a loved one? If so, what did you say and how have you handled this situation?

And how have you kept your loved one’s memory alive with your child or children?

I would love to hear about your experiences as you are going through your grief journey, too.

Fish On, 

Misti

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