Good Death: Talking To Your Children About Death
Are you open to speaking about your death, even planning it in advance? How would you break the news to your kids? Here's how to explain death to a child.
We know that everybody will die at some point, even though nobody really wants to die. But death has never been an easy conversation subject for most people. Patty Webster's Mum spoke a lot about death to her siblings and her. It was a good thing, because even though they were uncomfortable, she got her message across. And when a stroke would later rob her of her voice, the children became her voice. They already knew what she wanted because she wouldn't be quiet about it. So it begs the questions: how comfortable are you speaking about your death? Would you be like Webster's mum and speak to your kids about your death? It turns out more people are becoming open to speaking about their deaths. In this article we'll explain good death and include tips on how to explain death to a child.
What Is Good Death?
A survey conducted by the Conservation Project where Patty Webster works, found that 95% of Americans are open to discussions about their wishes. But only about 1 in 3 have talked about what they would want exactly. Good death is expressing your wishes for the end of your life and having them respected. Some others call it successful dying or dying well.
Ira Byock is chief medical officer of the Institute for Human Caring at Providence St. Joseph Health in Gardena. Byock is also the author of Dying Well: Peace and Possibilities at the End of Life. He thinks everyone should have these conversations. In fact, Byock and his colleagues talk to high school seniors about advanced care planning: “We want to normalize this and make it a part of growing up.”
Good Death Is More Than a Medical Decision
How you want to die is only partly about medical issues, Byock says. It’s also highly personal. And it will mean something different to you than it will to your spouse, your parents, your children, and others. To reach your own definition, Byock advises you take stock.
“Ask yourself, ‘If I’m seriously ill, what would matter most to me?’” he says. “For the vast majority of us, it’s other people. We are hard-wired to matter to one another.”
Your conversations, of course, should address practical matters, like life insurance information, how to access your safe deposit box, how to close your bank account -- and your Facebook account -- and more. So what will your death mean to your children? How would you prepare them for what is to come? Talking about death is the hardest conversation that families can have. That's why we've put these tips together. They show you how to explain death to a child.
How To Talk To Your Child About Death
- Prepare Now. Try to help your child understand death before it touches her life significantly. Start by pointing out some of the cycles in nature. Showing your child the lizard that died in the garden, or fruit that was alive but now looks rotten, are other ways to bring up the topic. Be sure to add that when something or someone dies they/it cannot come back again.
- Share Sad News Directly. Talk to your child in a familiar spot, where he has a favorite toy nearby to help him feel more comfortable. Then, as he’s playing, be honest and concrete, even if it might sound a little cold: “You could say, ‘Grandpa died. When people die, their body stops working and they can’t eat, walk, or play anymore. You won’t be able to see them anymore.’ ”
- Finally, make sure your child knows it’s not his fault. Kids tend to think that the world revolves around them, so they may feel some misguided sense of blame. Reassure your child that it was nothing he did—and that no one could have stopped the death from happening.
Resource: Kids Health