Monday, July 9, 2012

Talking to Kids About Death

This isn't exactly a happy topic for a Monday but this weekend Brian and I were trying to process a couple of deaths we learned of over the weekend.

One was sudden and tragic. It was the father of our brother-in-law. Even though we had only met him a few times, Brian and I were both extremely fond of this man. We were so saddened to learn of his passing and even more so our hearts ached for his three sons and four grandsons.

Later that same day we learned that Brian's parents had made the heart-wrenching decision to put down their yellow lab, Ellie, who was only three years old. This wasn't a huge surprise as Ellie had been battling quite a few health problems lately. Now I'm the kind of person who thinks that a dog is a dog and a dog is not a person. It doesn't mean I'm not sympathetic. I certainly can understand the kind of companionship a dog provides. But most families, after losing a pet, can and will get a new pet and it helps ease the loss and fill the void. This can almost never happen when a person dies.

But I was particularly concerned after Ellie's death because William was very close to this dog. When we would Skype Brian's parents he would ask to see Ellie. When we would call them on the phone he would ask to talk to her. And when we visited he spent 90% of his time playing with her. He loved this dog.
So I wasn't quite sure how to tell him the news and I really wasn't sure how he would take it.

On Sunday morning Brian and I sat him down and I reminded him of how sick Ellie had been.  I told him that when people get sick they can usually just rest and they get better very quickly.  But when a dog gets sick it's very hard for them to get better.  I told him that Nana and Papa had taken Ellie to the doctor and that the doctor said Ellie was very, very sick and that later in the day she had died.

At first his eyes got wide and he said, "She did?!"

Then I explained that dogs just don't live as long as people do.  (I understand most dogs live longer than three years but I didn't want to scare him into thinking the next time he got sick he was going to die like Ellie did.)  After that I asked if he had any questions.

He asked if Nana and Papa would get a new dog.

I said, probably.

I asked if he had any other questions.

He asked if he could go back and play his game.

And that was that.  He hasn't really mentioned it since.

Maybe he doesn't get it.  Maybe he'll understand fully the next time we're at Brian's parent's house and Ellie is nowhere to be found.

But a big part of me thinks he does get it.  Maybe he just really loves dogs and isn't particular to a certain one as long as there's just a dog present.

Have you had to cover the topic of death with your children after experiencing a loss?  How did you do it and how did your children react?

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