Why we all need to have conversations about death with our children
Hi friends. Very early on, I explained the concept of death to Phil. I think he was two, turning three. Recently at five years old, he has a better grasp on the concept. He knows that death means saying goodbye. He asks me if I’ll find him after he dies, and if where we go after we die will have towns and cities.
I find him teary at night, crying and asking me, “Are you going to die one day? Is it tomorrow?”
And I explain to him how we all die one day. It’s just life. And he needs to hear it. Because then he learns to appreciate what he has.
He needs to learn to love his life, and the lives of others.
He has learned that he’s not Spiderman or Superman. Actions have consequences. If he jumps from the top of the stairs to the first floor, he will get seriously hurt. He can’t fly, or swing from building to building, and he must be careful with cars and crossing the roads.
He learns to love more. When you know what you have isn’t permanent, you cherish it more. He’s always been a sweet and sensitive child, and I’ve noticed he’s only gotten sweeter and more considerate.
I don’t think we need to shield children from the topic of death. As a society, we still don’t know how to die. Our loved ones often suffer until the very last minute, clinging onto shreds of life futilely while they should be dying peacefully instead. Our children play with guns, not grasping the concept how dangerous they are, and how deaths can touch them, even when they’re not old. We don’t all get to die when we’re old. So many of us die young.
As parents, we protect Phil from a lot of things, but we don’t shield him from learning about death. Death is a part of life. To live fully, to appreciate life and living things, we must embrace the fact that one day, it will all end. We have a finite time on earth. So many of us allow seconds, minutes, days, weeks, years to slip away, as we sulk and loathe boredom, as we try to live like the Kardashians, as we envy others’ lives on Instagram, as we bury our faces in our screens, as fail to appreciate what we have and those around us, as we chase to land the next best job only to be disappointed again, and as we continue to pollute our bodies with junk food, laziness, stress, and self-deprecation… We are not fully living until we remind ourselves, we all die one day. it’s inescapable. We all plan out our lives, but how many of us plan out our deaths?
Surely it’s almost impossible to know when we die, unless we choose when we die, or have an estimate from our doctors when we have incurable diseases. Three months? Five months? A year?
I don’t think it’s too early for Phil to learn about death. He saw Little Foot’s mom die on Land Before Time. He’s also seen Overwatch characters die, only to be revived again. We had to teach him that in real life, you don’t get a second life or a free revive. None of us have reset buttons. Each of us has one body, with many parts that can not regenerate.
When Phil cries, we soothe him, kiss him and wipe away his tears. Sometimes, I can’t help but cry too. One day, my little baby will no longer be a part of this world. If all things go well, I will never have to see him go before I go. Either way, one day we will have to say goodbye. And to prepare for that day, I’ve taught him to live well, to not say that’s he’s bored because every moment on earth is a gift, to love those around him and appreciate them, to capture each special moment in his heart, to live fully, to breathe the fresh air, to smell the roses around him, and to remember… one day, it will all be gone. Joy, elation, sorrow, disappointments, heartbreak: nothingness.
For a long time, I cried too when I thought about how we all have to say goodbye one day. I think I was also around five years old when I first learned about the permanence of death. In my older age now, I’ve learned acceptance, and I’ve learned to let go of a lot. We only have a limited time, so I will love deeply those who love me, forgive those who have hurt me, distance myself from those who are toxic, learn as much as I can about the world, teach as much as I can to my child, and appreciate every second of my finite time. Life itself sparks joy. In moments of despair, in moments of sadness, all that heals, though not completely, with time. Those things that matter so much to us yesterday, become so insignificant today. Right?
Have these talks with your children. Death should not be a taboo subject. Tell them how precious life is, how amazing it is for them to just be alive, and how one day, we all cease to exist. Teach them to appreciate their lives, to appreciate their time on earth, to feel all the feelings of fear, of loss, of love. We all live, we all die, but in the meantime, we can do our very best to live fully, wonderfully, joyfully, purposefully, and with love. We can do our best to do good in the world, and create amazing memories together.
I encourage you to talk to your children about death, about its permanence, and how life should be lived to its fullest everyday, as our time is finite and most of us never know when we go. I encourage you to tell your children how precious they are. Tell them they matter more to you than their grades and their accomplishments or failures. That if they don’t do well on their SATs, or get into that dream college, or continue their piano, harp or karate lessons, that it’s all still okay. Cherish moments together. Hug them tighter, kiss them more, and tell them you love them. Children need to hear it.
Here are more resources on talking to children about death: