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How do kids deal with death?

by fancypants, January 29, 2011

Several years ago, a friend lost a child during pregnancy. My daughter Mia was only about 3 at the time, and I sort of skirted the issue, until she started to ask some pretty insightful questions and I realized that I was pretty ill equipped to deal with the answers. So I did some research. One friend of mine said she told her kids that a stork took people up to heaven, and she told them that because she didn’t want to have to explain. I didn’t think that Mia would buy that, plus I have no ability to try and explain what heaven is, not being so sure myself. So I started to do some more academic research. I read a bunch of different sources, and I really wish I could remember where this came from, but what made the most sense to me was a researcher who explained that it’s the adults who have a fear of death, and because we’re so afraid, we make our kids afraid. She said that kids have no basis from which to be afraid of death, and in general they approach things completely matter of factly, if we allow them to. She encouraged to tell kids the truth, and if there was something we didn’t know, to then say so. “Is there a heaven mommy?”. I don’t know.

So that’s what I did this week. After Darian and I spent the night sobbing, the next evening I told my kids that Liam had died. That the cancer was too strong from him. And that he had fought bravely, but all the medicine couldn’t help. And here’s the thing: they never once asked where he had gone, or why. Mia said that she was sad, and that his family must be sad. And her teacher later told me that she had shared with her class that Liam had passed. Max, when I told him, sat for a moment thinking, and then brightly said, “I know! They can have another baby boy and they can call him Liam and then they can have their Liam again!”. He was so sweet, and earnest that I just had to smile. The next morning in the car, Max told Darian that if a mom didn’t love her kid, and her kid died then she wouldn’t be sad and that would be a bad thing. He has such an interesting mind, my Max, and I think he was so touched by Liam’s family’s loss, and so concerned about them missing Liam and being sad about Liam.

Today I wrote a story about Liam. I don’t usually write stories for children, but I was inspired to write one about Liam. it’s called Prince Liam the brave And The Tale of Ninety Six Thousand Cookies. And I read it to this kids this afternoon. And when I was done, Max said, “Mom, my favorite character is Prince Liam”. Mine too.