“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
– Winnie the Pooh
We stood in a family huddle, crying in the driveway. We had just lost our beloved dog Buddha, age 14. My husband adopted him from an animal shelter in NC about a year before we got married. Buddha loved exploring, car rides, howling at fire truck sirens, the dog beach, running through piles of leaves and the feeling of cool tile on a hot summer day. When we lived in GA, he even had a “second family” that he would visit everyday to get treats. He was a husky/shepherd mix and he had a floppy ear that gave him a friendly look. We will miss him dearly. (Buddha, we will love you forever! You were such a good boy! We wish we had more time together.)
My husband and I have 2 little girls, ages 7 and 5. As parents, this is a rite of passage for us, because like it or not, it’s time to talk to our kids about death.
Here are some tips that we’re now applying in our own family when it comes to talking about death with our kids:
- Tell the truth about what has happened. But share the information in doses, so you can figure out what your child can handle.
- Use the words dead or died. Yes, these words are uncomfortable, but realistic words like these help the grieving process.
- It’s OK to say “I don’t know.” There are going to be questions you can’t answer. Give yourself grace when you don’t have all the answers.
- It’s OK to cry together.
- It’s OK to share memories and laugh.
- Find something special you can do with your child to help remember your loved one.
- Let your child grieve in his or her own way.
- If you’re child is going to a funeral or memorial service, prepare them ahead of time for what they will see. And if they become distraught in that moment, take a “time out” together.
- Be ready to talk about thoughts and feelings often.
- Remember to take care of yourself.