Saturday, August 15, 2015

Talking about death with my 7yo

"Daddy, my friend's mom died."
This was my oldest daughter's reason for not being able to sleep tonight. She's been having a hard time going to bed a lot lately. Most of her reasons involve her fear of something that to her is very real, and shows her growing feelings of empathy. 

We are currently visiting with my wife's family and staying with her parents. The little girl next door is close in age to our 7 year old, so they have been playing together a lot. Today, the new friend informed my daughter that her mom had died, and that the woman she lives with is actually her grandma. This information rocked our daughter's world. 

She didn't know how to process the idea of her mom and dad being gone. Her mind and heart raced from the feelings of grief and sadness she was imaging would be felt. And then she couldn't let those go, as she tried to fall asleep. 

All of this crescendoed and she melted down in tears. She sobbed as she told me about her friend. I asked her what she was most upset about, and she replied with, "I don't want you or mommy to die."

At 10pm, after an extra long day filled with playground trips, dinner out, and a birthday celebration for her cousin, this wasn't exactly the conversation I was anticipating! But I knew this was an important moment. At 7, she came to me with her fear. She came to me for help, and was able to put it into words. It's that alone that requires my attention. I have to respond showing her that I'm the guy she needs and can trust. I'm dad, and she can talk to me, about anything.

Death is always a tough subject for kids. I asked her what she thought would happen to mom and dad after we died. She told me about heaven and angels. I then asked her to close her eyes and picture my smiling face. As she did that, I took her hand and placed it over her heart. I told her what I know my wife and have already said to our kids, "no matter where you are mom and dad are always with you; our love made you; our love for you will never go away." 

She opened her eyes, smiled, and gave me a hug. I ran my fingers through her hair as she fell asleep. In the end, I can't promise heaven and angels. But I can promise that I'll always love her, and that when I'm gone she'll always have me in her heart. If her strength in religion grows, then her belief in a life after death will just sweeten my promise of always being in her heart. 

How have you dealt with talking with your kids about death? Please share your thoughts or stories in the comments below. Or reach me through Twitter @ken_teacherdad with #teacherdadcomments. 

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