Hard Conversations: Discussing Death with a Child

Every once in awhile something happens with us, and I’m torn about writing it. As a blogger, I don’t want my blog to necessarily come off as doom and gloom, but these things do come up. So bear with me as I get this off my chest. Perhaps it will help another parent out there.

Sunday night, Alex asked if I would snuggle with him in bed. I said fine, as the boys had Monday off from school. I’m not as strict about sleep on non-school nights. Well, we were all snuggled up on the bottom bunk as he asked me a question. “Mommy, will I die?” Its the type of question that throws a parent off. It made my heart jolt, my eyes tear up, and my brain race with how to answer. I knew I couldn’t fill his head with some fantasy that hes immortal and won’t die like the rest us, but no one likes to ever think about their child dying, period. My answer was then, “Yes hunny, one day, hopefully when you’re very very old you will pass away.” He whimpered, “I don’t want to die, I’m afraid.”
Lord help me. I’m good at staying calm in emergency situations, this was not an emergency. I fought back tears and told him, “Alex you don’t need to worry about that right now hunny, you’re 5. You have your whole life ahead of you.” He continued on, “I’m still afraid. Will you die too?” “Yes, Alex, one day I will die too. Hopefully when I’m very very old and you have children, or even grandchildren of your own.”
This somehow made it worse, because I opened the door to my 5 year old that one day he will lose me. He held on to me and said, “But I don’t want you to ever die! Will you die like Grandma?” Now kids don’t know, nor understand that their words can be like daggers to a parent’s heart. They don’t know the hurt we have in our own hearts. I pressed on, “Alex your grandfather used to say, No one gets out of here alive, and its true. We don’t get to live forever, but we do get to live. You have life, you can play, go to school, grow up, have a family, and be happy. Life is what you make of it Alex. If you focus on being afraid of dying how will you really be happy living? Your great grandparents both lived for a very very long time, and I intend to try to live that long as well!” I then went on to tell him how long they lived, and that not everyone gets cancer.
His next question followed: “Will I get to be old when I die?” Now, I chose not to discuss with him the possibility of dying younger. To me, this is a reality he doesn’t need to know now in life. I can’t even fathom losing one of my boys, and after events like Sandy Hook,  who wants to think about that? It already felt like he was losing this piece of innocence, knowing that death was a reality for everyone, him included. How far did I really want to push that? “I would sure hope so Alex!” I exclaimed, “Hopefully you have lots of wrinkles, race around in a wheelchair, and choose to have dessert before dinner!”
He wiped his nose on me (ew) and asked, “Will I get to live again?”
Here is where you pass your faith on to your children: “No Alex, you don’t get to be alive on earth again. You have one life here, so you should make it count! However, even if you’re afraid one day of ever losing me you should know we will meet again. When we die, we go to heaven and we are in God’s kingdom. We meet our loved ones again and we are at peace.”
He was finally starting to calm down. The idea of being old not being so bad, and what our faith teaches, gave him some peace. After what seemed like hours, but was probably 10 minutes later Alex fell asleep, Mommy, did not.
Like any other Mother out there, I went on google. I wondered how normal it was for a 5 year old to have questions like this. Turns out: its completely normal.
This article: Discussing Death I found to be informative and helpful.

There were pages upon pages of results with people having the same questions, and conversations with their child. Thankfully this didn’t make me feel alone. So, with that off my chest my advice is this:

Be open to your child’s emotions. Their emotions are real. The fear is valid, and is a terrifying reality for a child to learn. To me this is bigger than Santa. This was a piece of childhood and innocence washing away.

Be truthful. Its not going to help by putting the conversation of saying, “No you won’t die”. It doesn’t help your child lying to them. To me it builds trust. My kids will know, if they ask me something, I will be truthful. Hopefully this will carry on as they get older knowing they can come to me.

With that said: Know the limit. If Alex was much older perhaps other things would have been discussed, but its not necessary. He doesn’t need to know everything about death. It was more of, opening the door, and having it open for any future conversations. You don’t want to scare your child more than they already are.

Talk about it with your Spouse. I told Eli the next day. It made him more aware of how Alex felt and open to his feelings. This will make him more careful of what Alex sees on TV, what games are played, or what need be. It was also good to discuss as Eli and I were raised 2 different religions. He thought Alex should know about Hell and the reality of it. I basically put my foot down and said it can wait a couple years. PS if he does, hes totally staying up with Alex for those nightmares.

Reassure your child you are there for them.This is obviously something scary to your child. Be sure to let them know you are there for them. Even it is a few extra snuggle minutes. I know people tend to want to make boys tough, but that doesn’t mean they should be terrified in the middle of the night dealing with this subject.


Leave the conversation open. Let your child know they can continue to ask you questions about this. Be sure they are reassured they needn’t be afraid of asking about these subjects.

Hopefully this can help another parent out that gets asked these questions. I’m also grateful to have an outlet to get this out there. With that said, has anyone else had this talk with their kids? How did it go for you? Was there anything you did differently?


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