Give us a little more information and we'll give you a lot more relevant content
Your child's birthday or due date
Girl Boy Not Sure
Add A Child
Remove A Child
I don't have kids
Thanks For Subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong. Please contact support@fatherly.com.

What I Talked About When Talking to My Kids About Death

After a death in the family, I was forced to introduce death to my kids in a real way.

I wasn’t sure how to start, so I gave it to my five kids straight. We were in the van after summer camp pick-up when I broke some grim news.

“Guys, something sad happened today. Aunt Beverly died.”

My matter-of-fact, unemotional tone left the air of the minivan empty as they processed what I was telling them. We’d recently visited with Aunt Beverly so I could sense their confusion. I sat quietly, waiting for someone to pipe up with questions from the back.

First, my kids wanted to understand how I felt.

Vivi, my 8-year-old, chimed in first, “Daddy, did you cry?” I didn’t expect my kids to ask about my feelings – but each seemed riveted by how I reacted.

girl talking to father while driving

For my older children, I assume they wanted to understand “normal” responses to such dire news. I could see Yosef, my oldest at 11 years old, trying to figure out if I was angry or freaking out or sad or distracted. For my daughter and her younger siblings (all 8 years old and younger), the news instantly made her worry about me. Her question attempted to confirm that I was okay and, by extension, we’d carry onward as before.

Fatherly IQ
  1. Do you belong to any travel advantage or rewards programs?
    Yes
    No
Thanks for the feedback!
Oops! Something went wrong. Please contact support@fatherly.com.

I told Vivi, “Yes, I cried. But I’m okay now.”

Next, my kids wanted to talk about my aunt. Children are moment-to-moment, here-and-now creatures of impulse – spending little time in reflection. Parents of young kids (me) are as guilty of such an existence.

So, when Yosef asked, “Dad, did Aunt Beverly live a good life?”, I found it cathartic to share some of my favorite memories.

My kids were entertained by a few of my favorite tidbits:

As a kid, my brothers and I would run into Aunt Beverly’s front living room at the top of the hour to wait for the cuckoo bird to signal the hour. (Yes, she had a legit cuckoo bird clock!) My Aunt Beverly made the best Kool-Aid – with tons of real sugar! (She allowed us seconds without permission, too.) I had to let my kids know that my aunt went to baseball games in eight decades – including the afternoon we’d spent together at a ballgame just a week or so before her passing. (They asked if she loved soccer, too.)

It felt good to share these stories – not only as a way to tell my kids about her life, but as a dad authentically sharing without trying to do so in order to make a point.

I explained to Yosef, “Yes, Aunt Beverly lived a great life.”

Third, my kids wanted to talk about heaven.

man and kid in cemetery

Everett, my 4-year-old, was the first to bring up heaven, asking, “Beverly went to heaven. Right, Dad?”

I find a kid’s perspective on conceptual topics like heaven to be so entirely pure – free of judgment, bias, and any need for a conclusion. So, I intentionally started our discussion by saying, “I think so. I bet her version of heaven is at a ballpark, watching a game with her husband. What do you think?”

If you want to hear imagination, ask your kids about heaven.

I heard:

Everett (age 4): “I’d play baseball, too!”

Vivi (age 8): “In heaven, I’ll help people – and, do gymnastics all the time!”

Lynden (age 9): “Play soccer with Messi and Reynaldo – that’s what I’d do!”

Yosef (age 11): “I’m not sure. Wait, are you saying heaven isn’t the same for everyone?”

The three minutes we spent discussing heaven was nourishing, invigorating and, at times, simply hilarious. I told my son, “Yes, Everett, Aunt Beverly is in her own version of heaven. No doubt!”

siblings sleeping in back of car

I wished the ride home was longer that afternoon. In fact, although the conversation with my kids faded as I shifted the minivan into park, those 10 minutes still ring in my head.

It was as if the passing of my aunt allowed each of us to process together – to talk to each other about a variety of topics with no judgment, without the bounds of facts, with no hidden agendas.

When I picked up my kids that day, I felt down – and dreaded talking to them about such a tough subject. Reaching the driveway, though, I was energized and even refreshed. The way I figure it, Aunt Beverly left my family with three gifts that day – a chance to quickly unwind, a quiet opportunity to reconnect and, of course, a compelling reason for a lively whiffle ball game in the front yard when we got home.

Thanks, Aunt Beverly.

This article was syndicated from The Good-Bad Dad.