Jun 29, 2009

His First Experience With Death

Musings of A Beautiful Mess
*children and death mentioned*

First I would like to thank you all SO much for all the anniversary wishes. We are a boring old couple and did nothing. We had some "couple/adult" time Saturday night and I made an AMAZING lasagna on Sunday, but that was about it. We are boring!

What a week it's been with all the deaths! Each one of them has made me a bit sad. Not sad for me *PROGRESS*, but sad for their families and their friends. I know how difficult the road of grief is and I feel sad for those that have to travel it.

The one that has hit our household the most had been the death of Billy Mays. Neither of the children knew Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, or Michael Jackson. There were stories about Michael Jackson, but the children didn't have any questions and I didn't expect them, either. Nae had laughed at a picture if Michael Jackson she saw on TV and I told her to have some respect. Just because he may have looked funny because of all of his surgeries, he still deserves respect.

The one death that caught our household off guard was Billy's death. We watched his show and he was a very recognizable person for the children. Mostly for Zilla, then for Nae. Nae didn't have any questions, she's old enough to understand death. especially with her Oma *my mom* dying. She knows about death and we've already had many conversations about it. Zilla, on the other hand, was too young to understand that Oma died. We told him, but has he was only almost 3, he really didn't have much clue. He's made a few comments here and there, but on the whole he hasn't experienced death in his short little life.

That all changed when he heard about the death of Billy Mayes. He was very concerned about what was going to happen with his TV show. He said "there won't be a Pitchmen show anymore because the pitchman is dead". He said it very casually and very matter of fact. I wasn't quite sure how to respond to this, I didn't and don't want to push any of my death issues onto him. So I just said "maybe they will have his son or just the other pitchman on there now instead of Billy". He was satisfied with that answer and was OK with it. But all day long, he kept saying something about it. I think he was just trying to wrap his little head around the idea that he won't be seeing this man on TV anymore and that he is not alive. He mentioned he is sad for Billy's children. He also asked what had happened. I gave him the simplest answer I could. I told him (from what I read) "that his wife wasn't able to wake him up after he hit his head the night before, when his plane landed. " He wanted to know if there was a crash and from my knowledge there was not. I'm pretty sure I said the right thing, if such a thing even exists, and Zilla seems to be pretty content with the answers I gave him. So far, there hasn't been anymore questions. That will probably change when he seems something on the TV. For right now, I am happy to keep the television off.

I don't want to avoid the subject, it's going to come up eventually in our lives. We have a relative that is in poor health and when she passes away, we will revisit this topic again. But for right now, I am happy to keep his innocent intact as much as I possibly can. I won't lie to him if he has anymore questions, but for right now, I think I'm going to let him tell me when he is ready.

I believe if he isn't asking the questions, then he isn't ready for the answers. Am I wrong? Has anybody dealt with death and younger children before? Nae is and always has been a lot more mature then Zilla. So this is all new territory for me. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

22 friends have commented:

Celia on June 29, 2009 at 6:25 PM said...

I have. When I was a nanny I had a firm belief that you should never lie to children. I still believe that. Not about like, Santa- but if a shot was going to hurt, I said so. If it would hurt to take out a splinter, I said so. And the result- at least for us, was perfect trust.

One day their Grandma died. The kids became very worried that their parents would die. They asked their parents if they( the parents) would die. The parents said no.

They asked me if I would die. I said yes, someday. We briefly discussed death.

The next day their parents asked me not to say that. Which I agreed to, because after all they were their children and not mine.

However, the kids asked me again. I told them that they would have to ask their parents. They kept pressing me. So, I asked the kids if I had ever lied to them before. They said no. I said fine then, we are not going to discuss this anymore. Which satisfied the kids and the parents.

While I am not a parent, I did take being their nanny very seriously. If you have never read the book Dinosaurs Die by that guy that writes the Franklin books, it is the best book out there for explaining to children about death. I hope this was helpful.

Sheliza on June 29, 2009 at 7:08 PM said...

sadly it's been a while since my girls are nearing 13 & 15 so I don't even remember how I explained it to them. I guess I will have to figure that out all over again with little William. Perhaps I'll stop back by this post to see what you readers advise you to do.

BTW, thanks for all the really cool comments you leave me. They often times make my day :)

Kymberli on June 29, 2009 at 7:11 PM said...

I've avoided talking about it because I'm somewhat superstitious. I don't want to "talk" something into being.

But, my kids have never been faced with death. I haven't either, really, at least not for someone who was VERY close to me.

The death of Michael Jackson was a bit of a blow for my kids. They all know him and his music because Frank and I still listen to it on a semi-regular basis. They weren't necessarily saddened like we were, but this was the first death that they could identify with. Someone who they even remotely knew. Jaiden asked if he could feel anything after he was dead. TJ asked if his body would breathe anymore. Kyra kept asking, "Is *he* dead, is *she* dead now, or still alive" about each familiar face she saw as we watched TV together. Kaelyn continued to talk about Michael Jackson and how "he's dead now." All the talk of death was freaky. I mean, Michael and Billy were both younger than my mom, who will be 54 in August. The deaths of this past week took me to the place I try to avoid, thinking about my mother's own mortality and how eventually, I will have to face that and help my children face it, too.

Sunny on June 29, 2009 at 7:56 PM said...

I don't have any experience, but it sounds to me like you handled it really well. He will ask more questions when he is ready... his mind is processing it at his own level and pace.

Kristin on June 29, 2009 at 9:40 PM said...

I dealt with it when Marty was about 4. He had become aware of it when my mom and dad's dog had died the year before but it hit home when Dale Earnhardt was killed in a race that year. Marty was and is a huge Earnhardt fan and had just grasped the idea of some things on tv being real and some things just being shows. He was in the room when the announcement came on TV and he looked at me with tears welling up and said, "Momma was that real." I had to tell him that "yes, the race was real" and "yes, Earnhardt is dead." He burst into tears and sobbed for about 45 minutes. He ended up asking me questions about why he died, were they going to have a funeral, and where he would be buried. I am sure there were more questions but that is what I remember off the top of my head. I answered all his questions as they came up and tried to keep my answers as short and as simple as I could. And, I never offered extra information unless he seemed to need it.

Maria Shriver has a great book about death and dying and actually manages to explain the idea of a soul going to heaven in terms a child can understand. I wish I had that book available back when we were dealing with teaching Marty about death.

WiseGuy on June 30, 2009 at 5:09 AM said...

I think as a parent you have full right to decide how to 'break' it to your kids about the eventuality of death.

As a kid, I witnessed the deaths of several people in the family. My maternal grandparents were dead before I was born, but another grandma (my mother's aunt, who lived with us, and died at 102) and my grandparents died at a stage where I could take cognizance of their departure. I am not sure if I asked too many questions, but I think that even as a kid, I concluded that people grow old and die. And everybody dies when they grow old.

Maybe Zilla also has his own conclusions about all this. He asked you what he could not understand, but I think he has own digestive juices that inferred some of the facts to himself.

Children have to get a grip on all these, there is so much growing up to do.

Nae did not grow up listening to MJ, her parents did. That's why perhaps we never reacted the same way as the younger gen.

rys on June 30, 2009 at 6:04 AM said...

As I sit here, my son saw the headline of Billy Mays' death in another window. He asked why he died. I told him the reason was unclear, but doctors would examine his body to find out why. He knows he will get the truth from me to the best of my ability.

As there are different parenting preferences and styles, each child is also different. Knowing your children best I know you can make the right call. :-)

It's weird, because I recently bought some Oxyclean and did a Billy Mays impersonation while I put some in my wash this morning. How sad for his family, I wish them peace.

Lorza on June 30, 2009 at 6:23 AM said...

Happy anniversary!

My best friend's children LOVE Billy Mays- that booming voice. When she was scrubbing the tub one day- her oldest said simply "you just need some Orange Glo- or better yet. Oxy-clean." :) She doesn't know how she is going to tell them..or if she will even mention it.

MoxieMamaKC on June 30, 2009 at 7:21 AM said...

When my best friend's grandma died in December, I took Darling (who was 4) to the visitation. I explained that her body was still here but that the rest of her was up in heaven, ect. When Darling saw her in the casket, she told my husband to go and give her a kiss so she would wake up. All of us (thankfully) laughed and I'm pretty sure that my bf's grandma got a kick out of that too...

Kids deal with death in very strange ways and I'm sure my daughter is going to have a lot of questions when she gets a little older.

I don't think Dr. Spock wrote anything on this topic, so I think the best thing is to just help them out with their questions as best as we can.

Aunt Becky on June 30, 2009 at 1:08 PM said...

I think this is one of those things that you have to deal with as it comes. Tricky stuff, I know.

Kristina on June 30, 2009 at 1:23 PM said...

I think you handled it perfectly. You were honest, but didn't explain too much. I think with kids, sometimes less is more. I worry a lot about explaining death to my nephew and son. It will be hard, but a necessary fact of life.

A Mom in Jacksonville, FL on June 30, 2009 at 5:28 PM said...

I think you're doing things "just right." I agree with you---it's important not to overload kids and give them too much information. I think answering Nae's questions as he asks them will help him to process and work thorough things at his own pace.

Lavender Luz on July 1, 2009 at 9:49 AM said...

Happy anniversary!

I don't have any advice what TO do, but I wrote about what NOT to do here:


nancy on July 1, 2009 at 2:23 PM said...

With my girls, I am very matter of fact. I'll answer questions and I even offer up information when the question escapes then, yet I think it's something they should start thinking about.

Their great grandmother died last year. She lived in town, so they never knew of a time when she wasn't around. She passed away from old age, her health declining for years. She went into hospice at the end and great grandma, as they knew her, changed tremendously. In the last week of her life, everything about her changed. She looked so differently. She looked like she was about to die. It still amazes me how big of a change this really was.

Okay, so when we knew her death was approaching, we got the phone call to come visit her. My mother in law stopped us before seeing her, telling us that I may not want the girls to see her in that condition. Honestly, she ~was~ very "scary" looking at the end. Unresponsive. Gaunt. Lack of any signs from her active life. But I instead wanted the girls to see her. I wouldn't make them go up and touch her or anything if they didn't want to, but I let them see her. And at first, they were scared. I just talked about what was going on as we sat in her room. The girls grew bored and started playing. As they played by the window, they grew more comfortable of what was in the room with them. When we left, Ella even went up to her and held her hand.

She died shortly thereafter and I explained EXACTLY what was happening with her body. I talked all about cremation and literally ALL the details. I even brought out the ashes of our kitty and let them feel it (through the bag of course).

I don't know where I'm really going with this except to show how that even though they weren't asking the questions, I still talked about it. I sometimes think they just don't know what questions to ask. OF COURSE I worked with their reactions and wouldn't force things onto them, but now that they know, it's just a fact they know now, instead of being confused with it later.

JamieD on July 1, 2009 at 6:58 PM said...

I don't have any personal experience myself but I like what Sunny said. When he is ready to explore the topic of death further, he will ask you.

A Mom in Jacksonville, FL on July 2, 2009 at 2:48 PM said...

P.S. Please check out my blog when you have the chance. I've nominated you for an award. :)

We have Angel Wings on July 2, 2009 at 9:54 PM said...


I don't have any advice, as I've never had to deal with a child and explaining death.

But I do think what you've told him when he asks is just fine. You're not lying, you're stating that facts as you know them and in my eyes - that's what exactly should happen.

My H would say that I'm quiet morbid - as I've always wanted to be a Mortician. So, I kind of have a different point of view when it comes to death.

Anyway, you're a Rock Star Mom, as always.

Thinking of you!


kateypie35 on July 3, 2009 at 1:25 AM said...

No good advice, I haven't had to deal with anything like this yet with my son - he is too little. (Phew)

I think you handled it gently and well, and I guess you can just let him take the lead...?...answer his questions honestly, but don't push.

Its so hard to know what is the best way to handle these things. Sounds like you were spot on Mom!

I can't believe all the deaths lately, its not a good month. :(

sunflowerchilde on July 3, 2009 at 10:21 AM said...

I can't really help you either. I don't have kids, and I don't remember my parents explaining anything about death to me. I just know that if they talked about it, they must have done a bad job, because I am really only coming to terms with my own future death now, at age 30! I think it's important for a child to work things out about death a little earlier than that.

Good luck!

sunflowerchilde on July 3, 2009 at 10:23 AM said...

P.S. When I mentioned to my husband recently that I was afraid of dying, and he said he wasn't, I asked him why not. He said "It's just something that is supposed to happen." He grew up in a tiny village in the mountains in Italy, where everyone knows everyone else and all of your ancestors are buried in the town cemetery - I think death is just a normal part of life for him, and that's so much healthier than the way Americans handle it.

Brendan and Brenna's Mom on July 3, 2009 at 7:18 PM said...

For me death was harder to explain than sex. There are just so many unanswered questions...

MissMeliss on July 14, 2009 at 8:04 AM said...

i don't have any good answers either, except to say that my nephew had a really tough time understanding death. and he couldn't seem to let it go forever (years)... i guess it's just the difference in each child... personally, i'd probably keep it as short and sweet (and honest) as possible.


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