Explaining Death to a Child Really Sucks

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Over the weekend, my puppy, Shorty, died.

He was 14 years old and was in poor health for a short while. He had a series of seizures and my mom finally took him to the clinic where the vet confirmed the seizures were actually heart attacks and Shorty had cognitive heart failure. She gave my mom medication and I hoped that would’ve extended his life.

They found him dead in his sleep. My brother buried him in the backyard with my other dog, Missy, from a long time ago.

While I mourned the loss of my puppy, I tried to explain it to Bear. He didn’t understand the concept of life and death quite yet and it was hard to explain it to him in a way that made sense. I told him that Shorty was in heaven, and that we wouldn’t be seeing him again when we go see Grandma and Grandpa.

He looked at me a bit quizzically and then went back to playing on his iPad.

When Bear woke up from his nap and saw me working on this very post and the accompanying pictures of Shorty, I explained to him again that he died and went to heaven.

“Oh no,” he softly replied and frowned.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked.

He shook his head and I turned on the TV so we can watch Cousins for Life. 

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As I found temporary relief that he didn’t press any further, I was caught into wondering if this is merely the beginning of discussing death with my young child. After all, death is a part of life. It’s a guarantee just like taxes.

I don’t remember my first encounter with death as a child. I remember other factors like a family pet dying, or even a distant family member passing away, but I can’t really recall  the first experience. Maybe I blocked it out, or maybe I was just so super young, I honestly don’t remember.

I don’t know if my parents ever gave me a talk about life and death. I also don’t know if I just figured it out on my own. Talking to a child  in the world of social media,  where trending topics can often decide what’s real or what’s fake, I don’t want Bear to be influenced by what death is and what it’s not.

Still, explaining life and death, heaven and earth (not sure if we’ll get to the hell part but hopefully Bear will figure that part on his own), will forever be a conversation in our home. Bear knows about Ethan, but he doesn’t quite understand why we visit him at the cemetery and why he’s not here.

I researched on Amazon a number of books about explaining death to a child and I’m not sure if I’m ready to pick up one. We already have a book for Bear that was very hard for us to read when I was pregnant with him and he has yet to see it.

Maybe when we go visit my parents in a week or so, and Bear sees Shorty isn’t around, maybe he’ll understand then. And I have to be prepared for his reaction no matter what.

Le sigh…this was a lesson I wasn’t expecting so soon to teach and for Bear to learn. Does anyone have any tips?

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One thought on “Explaining Death to a Child Really Sucks

  1. Just be open and honest. I kept it science related when the kids grandma passed. They were 5 and 4. It’s easier for kids to understand step by step. She passed from complications of a brain aneurysm and stroke.

    ‘her body wasn’t strong enough to heal, so she’s resting until it’s time to see her again’.

    Of course the biggest way I kept it positive was to figure out ways to remember her by. We did the same with our pets too. But this convo is harder than the sex convo……

    Just sayin.

    Liked by 1 person

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