Explaining Death to a Child

If you are a parent, you most certainly will have to face this arduous task at some point in the journey—telling your child about death. This was my wife and I’s first time…

Today, our 10-week-old husky killed one of our chickens, an event that has not happened at our household before. I was on my way home from an overseas trip when I began receiving frantic text messages from my wife. Even though we had put measures in place to prevent this from happening, somehow one chicken must have escaped from the side of the yard where they freely roam. Kwazi, the name our son Danny gave our adorable puppy, got to the poor chicken. My wife Joanne dashed to the Veterinarian ER with the chicken who was not doing well. Unfortunately, they could not save her from Kwazi’s bites to the neck. Now we were left to explain the situation to our 3-year-old son, Danny.

In addition, earlier this year, my family experienced a deep and quite unexpected loss when my brother-in-law Waddell died due to COVID. Danny was very close to him. He called his uncle Deedee. Joanne and I wrestled with what to tell Danny. So we told him, “Deedee went to heaven.” Danny asked, “Why?” Another time I offered, “Jesus came and took him.” He looked at me and inquired, “How?”

Gradually, Danny has mentioned his uncle less and less, but I wonder if he still thinks about him and just doesn’t say anything. One time, he was lying next to me in bed, and he grasped my face with both of his hands, looked me in the eye, and asked me with an urgent voice, “Where is Deedee?” I was taken by surprise, so I did not say anything for a second. Danny shook his little hands to catch my attention and asked me again, “Where is Deedee?” I repeated answers I had given him before. I wanted to spare my innocent child the reality of life, that anyone can go to heaven anytime.

The chicken incident was different. There was a lifeless bird. He heard the commotion and saw the injured bird and knew instinctively that something was terribly wrong. This was also the first time he heard the word die.  I think his mind possibly may have grasped that dying is not a good thing.

A Christ follower, I believe in heaven and that we will go there. I believe heaven is magnificent, more than anything we can imagine. But who among us doesn’t dread death, or at minimum have some trepidation or wonder at its mysteries.

One day, about 20 years ago, my father who was a giant of faith, learned one afternoon that his prostate levels (PSA) where very high. Even though it turned out to be a simple infection, for the first 24 hours, he thought it was prostate cancer. I saw my father get quiet like I never saw him before, sitting in his recliner thinking and reflecting.

He never told me what was going on in his mind then, but I am sure he was digging deep to muster his faith experiences with God and maybe ask Him if it was time for him to go. All of us, even those who live with God wrestle with death. After all, it is not something we have to face daily. So when it comes, it requires depth of thought and stirring of faith.

C.S Lewis observed, “The death of a beloved is an amputation.”

Our son Danny is named after his amazing uncle Danny Haddad, whom he never met. He died of cancer at age 26 in 2011. That’s another conversation we’ll have to have with our son one day.

May we understand that God is good, even though He allows these painful events to occur.

As we wrestle to explain death to our children, may we come to peace with it ourselves so that dying does not prevent us from living.

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