Telling a 7 Year-Old about Death

Question: Dear Luise: My father just died today. He was 52. We don’t have a COD or anything but it’s safe to say his heart gave out. He was severely obese and drank/smoked too much. He’d quit smoking a month or so ago but obviously that wasn’t doing much. I’m 17, and I watched him waste away, but I’m doing okay. My mom’s kind of a wreck, but she’ll smoke and drink herself into oblivion, I’m sure. The person I’m really worried about is my little sister. She’s 7, and I know she knows that our dad was sick, but she was a lot closer to him than I was and I know that it’s going to hit her hard. We’ve all decided that it’d be best for our mom to tell her, but she doesn’t know how to say it. I don’t know how to say it, either. She was so close to her dad. She loved him with all her heart, and now he’s gone. What the hell am I supposed to do? Is she going to be okay? K.

Answer: Dear K.: So much of what young children are told about death has to do with the belief system of the family involved…religion or the lack of it…philosophy…spirituality.

I can tell you this; your little sister is very lucky to have you. I’m amazed and impressed at your level of maturity and understanding…and deeply touched by your empathy and concern for her. Often youngsters can be pretty neglected in such a situation. People are upset and sometimes don’t know what to say.

So, this is for yo and your mom: I guess I would talk with her about death. That everything that lives dies…all people, animals, creatures, insects, plants. Everyone and everything has a lifespan from a mosquito to a redwood tree. There is no possible way her dad could be the exception. I would talk with her about how hard it is for everyone to accept and how impossible it seems to go on after someone has left. And I would let her know that she can talk, cry, ask questions and be with you as you all move through it. Let her know that you will heal…not by forgetting but by remembering. Blessings, Luise

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