Tell Me About It: Useful tools for explaining death to kids

Published Sept. 14, 2015

Q: My grandma is in hospice and will likely pass away within a week or so. Do you have any advice on how to talk about this with my 3-year-old daughter? My grandma has dementia, so my daughter knows her but hasn't had a super-close relationship with her.

I need some way to explain why everyone is so sad. Do I find a baby sitter for the funeral? I don't want to scare her! And I'm not religious so those explanations don't work.

Explaining Death

A: Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen. I used it and swear by it. I won't say it's emotionally soft, because it does have impact — but it's about death and what has more impact than that. It's just beautiful and clear about the fact of the life cycle, and I believe it's a disservice to children to muddle the life-cycle message because we can't get our own heads straight about it.

That said, yes, get a sitter for the funeral. I believe kids do belong at funerals for people they love, but age 3 combined with a not-super-close relationship say this is one best skipped.

By the way — I've found the memory of the living is a useful substitute for heaven for the non-believer. "(Blank) stays with me in my memory."

I'm sorry about your grandma.

Noticeable wound invites inquiry

Q: When an old friend attends the same event as you, and you notice the person has a large scab on their forehead, what if anything is proper or correct to say to them? Is it impolite to ask what happened? Does one just ignore the person's face and get on with small talk?

Did I Do Wrong by Asking?

A: Close friends can show they care by asking. All others can show they care by not asking — by giving the person a chance to feel like him- or herself, and not just a giant scab.