Our friends at Reno Dads Blog recently tackled the complicated topic of how to explain death to our children. Big thanks to Mike McDowell for his words and permission to share them here.
I remember that day clearly. As I drove my son (then 6 years old) home from school, I came to a stop at a traffic light.
“Hey dad,” his little voice snuck to my ear from the back seat.
“Yeah, buddy?” I replied, casually.
“What happens to us when we die?” he asked me.
Oh no, I wasn’t ready for this conversation yet! I stared straight ahead as we waited there for the light to turn green, and I felt as though my silence was lasting far too long. I needed to reply. As my mind panicked, searching for a way to shape the perfect response to one of mankind’s most profound and eternal questions, I came up with the perfect dad response: “What do you think happens?”
“Well,” he said, “In school today, we learned that when plants and trees die, they return to the soil and come back as a new plant or tree. I think that’s what happens to us when we die – we come back as a new person.”
My mouth smiled wide and my eyes began to well up a bit. What a simultaneously insightful and beautiful observation coming from my young son, who previously had such astute pronouncements as, “farts are funny.” Proudly, I replied, “There are a lot of people who think that’s exactly what happens to us. But, nobody really knows for sure.”
Death is a challenging subject to discuss and accept, for both adults and children. When it comes to introducing the concept to a child, it’s not always easy to know what to say. After all, death can be emotionally painful to deal with, and as parents we instinctively want to protect our children from pain. It’s difficult for us to tell a child that somebody they love is gone forever (be it the death of a family member or beloved pet), especially in a way that their still-developing minds can process.
Before I go any further, I’ll tell you that I’m not a professional grief counselor (far from it). That’s why I chose to speak to Emilio Parga, the Founder and Executive Director of The Solace Tree, a Reno-based non-profit organization that helps children, teens and adults to cope with the death of loved ones. Parga provided me with valuable guidance on this topic, and I’d love to pass it along to you, should you be faced with the seemingly inevitable moment(s) you’ll talk with your children about death.
Click here to read more.