How to explain Death to a 4 yr old? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 3 Old 12-09-2005, 11:34 AM - Thread Starter
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we just found out that my DH's uncle has been diagnosed with lung cancer and may have only 2 weeks to live. this is really surprising to us all, he's always been healthy and active (well, he smoked when he was a teenager, but not since being a parent), and the only reason they found out is because he was shoveling snow and started feeling short of breath. the hospital found fluid on his lung, drained it, and he felt much better, and they ran more tests and found out that it's definately cancer, very advanced, involving the whole left lung for sure, possibly spread to other parts (more tests to come). anyways, even if he has the lung removed, he still does not have a good chance for survival. they said it's even too late for chemo. of course, we are all hoping for a miracle, but it really doesn't look good

my kids are 2 and 4 yrs old. they have met DH's uncle before, but he lives 9 hours away, and don't know him very well (might not even remember him, it's been a while). this is grandma's brother though, and when we go down to see them all, she will be, very understandably, upset. we want to prepare my DS in particular (DD is a bit young to even get what's going on) about this uncle being very sick, and if/when he does die, what should we tell him about death? we are not religious at all, and it will be hard for us to have other people tell him that uncle went to heaven and whatnot. we want this to be a learning experience, and mostly, we don't want DS and DD to worry about momma and daddy dying too. what should we say? is it wrong for us to promise the kids that we're not going to die any day soon (not really feasible to promise that!) or that we will try our best to be around for as long as possible (more feasible, but so insecure!)....

this is hard! dh and i really love this uncle and it's all so sudden!

Momma to K ('01), E ('03) and A ('07)

Proud Gestational Surrogate to N (15/01/15)
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#2 of 3 Old 12-09-2005, 01:08 PM
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I'm so sorry you're having to go through this, especially so suddenly.

There's a link to grief and loss resources on the main page of this forum. It lists children's and adult's books dealing with grief. One that we have and read often with our girls is When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death , by Marc Brown. It's a wonderful, gentle explanation of dying and grief and remembering loved ones. It does address many religious teachings about death, but simply as an explanation of the various ways of understanding death. In fact, I think that page says something about how 'your parents can talk to you about what they believe', or something like that.

I would highly recommend the book.

Hoping you find comfort during this hard, hard time.

Wife and Mama who homeschools-- mostly in the kitchen!
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#3 of 3 Old 12-09-2005, 03:55 PM
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I'm sorry that you are going through this right now.

As for telling your child, what I have done is thought long & hard about what I believe about death. Then, I simplified it and explained it honestly to my child.

My son was 5 when my dad suddenly passed away. He had a million questions and I answered each one honestly and simply. My kids have not worried or expressed concern about their own death or mine. I have told them honestly that every living thing will one day die. I say, I hope I'll live a long time. It's honest. My son at the time (5) was really into the technical details. Where was he, how did it happen, how did he get that, do I have that? etc.

If they saw me or my mom crying, I said, "I really miss your grandpa right now. I wish he was still here with us."

Things I've told my kids:
Grandpa died.
His body stopped working and he is no longer alive. As they get older, then tend to ask more specifics.
(I am not religious but believe that our spirits continue) so I say that his spirit is still around us and can see us and hear us (because that is my belief).
I have said that every living thing will die one day.

Since you are concerned about them fearing for your life or their own, I'd also suggest using words like cancer or disease. If you say he's sick, the next time someone in your house is sick, your child may make that connection and think the person may die.

Whatever you don't tell them, they will ask. Kids are uncensored and ask for information, so think about your beliefs and it will help you explain all of his questions.
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