“Daddy, what if you die?” Talking to kids about death.
What would your answer to that question be?
A friend of mine recently shared a story with me that really inspired me and I wanted to share it with you.
He recently lost his father-in-law. For his little boy, who had just lost his grandfather, this brought about some new realisations and questions around death. He went to his dad and asked “Daddy, what happens if you die? Where would I live?” He was very distressed, imagining he would have nowhere to go and would be out on the streets.
So my friend did something which I suspect may be a little too uncommon. He answered the question. He discussed with his son that actually, if he died, Mummy would still be there so of course he would live with Mummy. Or if Mummy died he would stay with Daddy. And if something happened and he and Mummy died at the same time then he talked about the different people his son might go to live with. He told me that his son seemed calmer, his fears (of where he would live) had been addressed and he didn’t bring it up again.
It might seem weird that I called this story ‘inspiring’ but I think it’s a beautiful example of real honesty around death and the difference it can make.
What would you have done? I suspect many parents (I’m pretty sure mine did) would try to dissolve the immediate upset in their children (and the discomfort a question like this causes them) by making promises they can’t necessarily keep -” you don’t have to worry about that. I won’t die for a very long time” – and indirectly and unintentionally setting their kids up with their own fear of death, inability to accept it, and understanding that it isn’t really something we talk about.
When I discussed this with my friend he was surprised – it hadn’t even occurred to him that there was any option other than a truthful, practical answer. His little boy has started off with a very healthy understanding that people die, that people close to him can die, and how that might affect him. Because Daddys do die…all the time. Whether they want to or plan to or would like to….they do. Some are young, some are old. Some see it coming, some don’t.
The more open and aware and practical we are about death the less it can shock us or sneak up on us. Because we always knew it was coming anyway (and lived accordingly) rather than it being a complete surprise (because we didn’t actually really think it was going to happen till we were really, really old -not to us or anyone we know).
What does this story bring up for you?
P.S. thanks to my friend for sharing this and permitting me to blog about it.