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HOW DO YOU TELL 4YO ABOUT DEATH??? Please help me!

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
Hi guys....I just got word that my grandfather (ds's great grandpa) will most likely not make it through the night due to kidney failure and pneumonia....my question is, how do i tell my almost four yo ds about this....? he is sleeping now, but when morning comes, or when the time eventually comes.....dear god...i've never experienced a death to someone close to me before, so i don't even know how I'm going to react...he and I were very close, he and ds close as well. DS knows he was sick, but this is a whole other ball park....any ideas on hpow to explain trhis....any books, etc...? Please, any help is much appreciated.
thank you all, and blessings to you and yours.

ps-please forgive the typos, i am shaking as i write this....i'm going to copy and paste this in other threads....
post #2 of 15
I'm sorry you're going through this. I think at this age they don't understand the permanence of death. But what may upset them more is seeing how upset others, perhaps you, are. I'm no expert though, on what to do! Sorry. maybe someone else here?
post #3 of 15
Hmmm, I'm sorry that you are dealing with this.

My 3 year old is always talking about death - he is just facinated by the idea of it or curious or something.

Here is what I tell him (this is in keeping with my Christian/mystic beliefs):

- All living things eventually die - maybe due to sickness or old age or an accident. It is sad for other people, because we miss the person (or animal) that we loved.

- When living things, only the body dies. The spirit lives on.

- When people die, they are with God. We have a new life with God. For a person who has a sick body, the person now has a new body and a new life with God.

One day we were driving somewhere and we saw and heard an ambulance and I said "maybe that person is really sick and we should say a prayer." And my 3 year old said "Or maybe the person already died and now they have a new body and a new life with God!" So, maybe he gets it and maybe not one bit...

Also, he is always asking about Indians and dinosaurs and trying to understand death. I tell him that dinosaurs are dead forever (extinct) and that some Indians died because they lived and got old, but there are still Indians today (like our friend Brad, who is part Indian). He is totally confused about this.

I also don't discount the idea of reincarnation and my son has asked about past lives, future lives, etc. I am pretty vague - I sort of say that I don't know what form the new life will take.

Sorry to be rambling here. I think that concept of death is really a difficult one - for all of us. I think your son will be okay with whatever loving words you can offer. I hope your grandfather is comfortable and my prayers are with him and you and your family.

post #4 of 15
Dear CookieMonsterMommy, I am so sorry about your grandfather. It sounds like it will be a terrible loss. Although I have not yet had to experience this w/my children, I would recommend keeping it simple & factual. I remember reading somewhere to attribute the death to the fact that the loved one's heart stopped beating. As opposed to saying the person died because they were sick (which could lead a child to worrying that whenever someone got sick they would die.) Be prepared for lots of questions and mixed feelings (sadness, anger, fear, etc.).

Perhaps your children's librarian could recommend some age-appropriate books on the subject.

Also, I would encourage your son to express his feelings about his great grandfather, perhaps through talking, art, looking at pictures & sharing memories, etc.

My thoughts are with you.
post #5 of 15

I have a 7 1/2 yr old and a 4 1/2 yr old. I have had to go through this twice in the last yr. (My MIL and my mom).....The kids were a little too young when their gr. grandparents died. I highly recommend a book called Badger's Parting Gifts..it talks about remembering the person who has died and the "gifts"/memories they leave us. TheFall of Freddy the Leaf is very good too. I am not X-ian and the idea of a soul/afterlife is a bit iffy to me. When others have said things like this to my children, i just tell them flat out "I don't know" and "no one knows for sure what happens. SOME people believe that....." and then fill in the blanks with a few differing theories.

I believe both my kids firmly grasp the permanence of death...afterall they don't see g'ma anymore. I feel telling them that g'ma lives on, or the spirit never dies, or they are "watching" them from above would only confuse them. Death is Death is Death.
post #6 of 15
I wrote a paper about books on death and dying for children when I was in college. I have no idea where my copy of that paper is now, of course...but here are some links. I hope they help.

I'm sorry to hear about your grandfather.


post #7 of 15

I am sorry to read about your loss. My grandmother recently died, and my 3.5 yo (who didn't really know her) has been asking questions about death and dying. My brother's girlfriend, a social worker who works primarily with children, highly recommended the book "When Dinosaurs Die" by Laurie Krasny and Marc Brown. I bought it, but it only arrived just yesterday, so I haven't had a chance to show it to ds yet. From a cursory look at it, I thought it would be helpful for him (you can read reviews at amazon if you want more info about it). I imagine you could find it at your library. If there are subjects you'd rather not delve into (like suicide) you can just skip those parts.

I'll be thinking about you and your ds today.

post #8 of 15
I've always thought that books were a great springboard for discussions about sensitive topics. One that I came across while taking a children's lit course years ago was..

The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst

Here is the amazon link


There are also some other books listed on the same topic on this page...some of which that have already been mentioned.

I'm sorry to hear about your loss.

post #9 of 15
CookieMonsterMommy, I'm so sorry about your grandfather!

I was 4 when my best friend's big sister was killed in a car accident. I hope my experience (which I remember vividly) can be helpful to you: My parents explained that S got hurt very very badly so that her body could not work anymore, so her heart stopped beating, and she died. Being dead means she is gone and we can't be with her anymore. That's very sad, and it will take us a long time to get used to it. It's okay to cry. It's okay to feel mad that you don't get to see her again. Let's talk about some of the nice things about S that we'll miss.

I did not go to the funeral, but my parents did. (I don't recall being offered the option. It might be wise to talk about what happens at a funeral and whether your son wants to go. He might appreciate the sense of official commemoration and closure.) Afterward, I asked them to tell me all about it: Did they see S's body; did she look hurt; why not? How was it that they could see S but she wasn't really there? (My Unitarian parents' explanation was something like, "When a person dies, her spirit leaves her body. The body is still real, but there's nobody in there. We don't know what happens to the spirit; it's a big mystery! People believe various things about that, but nobody knows for sure until they die themselves.") What did the minister say? Did my friend cry? Did her parents cry? Did they hug her? (It was important to me to know that she was okay.) My parents were very patient with all these questions.

My great-grandparents died a few years later, and I remember the explanation of their deaths as being more like, "He was so old that his body was just wearing out. That's why he got so sick in the last few years. Finally, last night while he was sleeping, his heart just slowed down until it stopped beating and he died." That didn't sound so bad. I recommend saying something like that rather than talking about how he was sick.

Good luck! I'll be thinking of you.
post #10 of 15
Hugs to you, CookieMonsterMommy. The first time is always a shock. and you are having to go through it as the same time you are modeling for your son...

I second The 10th Good Thing About Barney book. My best friend used that book when her mother died. Nancy died about 3,000 miles away from her daughter, and my friend had a memorial to her mom at a local church...anyway, she had her kids each make a list of the ten best things about Nana. Each one was just that child's idea about their grandlmorther, and the process was really meaningful to them... the pastor of the church did this sweet puppet play with a caterpillar and butterfly puppet, explaining from his perspective that life is changed not ended. I think the kids liked that too.

Maria Shriver also has a book from a Catholic Christian perspective that she wrote for her kids after her grandmother (Rose Kennedy) died.

My dd is 6, and has thought a lot about death for a few years now...she has also lost important people to her, my brother anf my grandmother, but she is comforted to think of them as her friends in heaven, who go on loving her.
post #11 of 15
There's a wonderful book called Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children. It explains that everything has a beginning/birth, lifetime, end-of-lifetime/death; plants, bugs, animals, people. Nothing can go on living forever, that's just the way it works. It's very matter of fact, but not harsh at all. I read it to dd when she was about 3 and now when she hears that someone/thing has died, she says, "So it was the end of her lifetime, right?" You could augment this with whatever spiritual belief you may have.
post #12 of 15
Thread Starter 

It happened Yesterday

Well, he put up a fight....but basically there was nothing he or anyone could do....they kept him on a steadily increasing morphine drip to try to keep him comfortable. The doctors and nurses were wonderful-but I wish he couldv'e died at home. Watching his take those last breaths was horrible...we kept telling him not to be scared, that we didn't like to see him in pain, and it was okay for him to say goodbye (not literally because he wasn't able to talk). But anyway, I want to thank you all so much for your suggestions-I am going to the library to check out those books some of you recommended-ds is with daddy right now and I guess I'll tell him tonight-the viewing is tomorrow. Thank you all for your support and compassion.
Best Wishes and Gratitude, Kelly

post #13 of 15
I'm so sorry for your loss. It's never easy. Hug yourselves tight. And don't worry ... you know how surprisingly perceptive and comprehending kids can be.
post #14 of 15
Dear MDC:

I am sorry about your loss. The first death I knew was my baby sister. She died soon after we were watching Television together one evening; we did not know that she was that sick.

The advantage you have here is that he was old and lived a full life and G-d or the higher power called him home and will wait for and make a place for us when our time comes .

It is a sad time, but strength and growth can come from this.
post #15 of 15
I want to add that to this day death does not make any sense to me.

I am comforted by the fact that there is an after life waiting for me and that the dear departed are waiting for me "there" and possibly making a place for me and waiting to welcome me there.

Despite your obvious grief, please talk to your child about this. YOur child needs to talk about this to settle it all in his/her mind. YOur child will get answers from someone else if it is not you.

No one talked to me about my sister, and I needed to talk to someone - anyone. As soon as I was old enough to drive, I drove out to her gravesite to pay my respects. I discovered that my mom still had not and never has put a marker on her drawer (in the mauseleum)

It has been forty years, and my mom still has not spoken about it. She refuses to.
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