Please note: this post is not meant to be depressing, but rather thought-provoking. I encourage you to think ahead, rather than being caught at the last moment without a plan. If you find yourself struggling with these ideas, or experiencing emotions that you cannot handle, please seek help. There are nearly endless resources online for coping with death and grief, including the Hospice Foundation Of America.
…you told your kids what?!
Yes. My children know about death. Is that weird?
The reality is that in life, there is death. Pets die, friends die, parents die and sadly, children die. No one escapes life alive. Regardless of your faith (or whatever beliefs/non-beliefs you may have) we all generally agree that you physically die at some point. How do you explain that to a child?
Everyone has their own parenting style, and no one knows your child as well as you do, but how many cats can “run away” and how long can second-cousin Ethell be gone on “vacation” before the kids start to notice something is up? Maybe you plan on waiting until you bury fluffy in the back yard before you explain death to your kids, and that’s fine, but don’t wait until fluffy is cold in the ground to start thinking about what you might say.
As a military family, it is in your face. Everyday. Your friends, neighbors and coworkers perform a high-risk job and one of those risks is death. (Not to say that many other are not also performing jobs with high mortality rates, and to you I tip my hat.)
It’s awkward. It’s unnerving. It’s complicated. People have different beliefs than you do. Families mourn differently than yours. You don’t know what to say because it might upset someone… Stop for a minute and think: do you even know what your own feelings are when it comes to death?
Now is the time to think ahead. I wish no one had to experience death, but we all do, and now might be a good time to sort out your feelings and start a dialogue with your family (kids especially) about what it is and what it means to you. It will be a lot easier on you and your kids if you aren’t standing at the graveside when your five-year-old blurts out “So he is going to be worm food now?!” Or listening to the terrified gasp of your 8 year old when s/he realizes that pretty “park” next door contains bodies of the deceased.
My children not only understand death (as much as any 5 and 7 year olds can) but the value of life. They are beginning to grasp sacrifice and understand the value of our military. Is it hard? Yes, sometimes there are questions I don’t really want to answer, but it is better than having my child fear the unknown. As the “experts” say, answer the question truthfully, but don’t offer any more information than they ask for.
Maybe now is not the time to talk to your kids, maybe it is. You are the one who knows your children best, and knows the best way to talk to them. Think about your own beliefs and attitudes now, so you aren’t grasping at straws when they see the funeral procession roll by. Death doesn’t have to be scary, if you don’t feel confident in talking to your kids, check out your local library or hospice, as they often have books or pamphlets on explaining death to children. You don’t have to dwell on it, but your kids should know it is okay to talk about it with you if they have any concerns.