How Do You Talk to Your Kids About death? | Kids VT | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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How Do You Talk to Your Kids About death? 

Published March 1, 2014 at 4:00 a.m. | Updated April 4, 2022 at 7:52 p.m.

Brian Eckert

City: South Burlington

Job: Sr. Multimedia Specialist, Ben & Jerry's; Owner, Four Quarters Brewing.

Son Barrett, 4; daughter Juniper, 18 months

When our son was younger, we had a dog that died. Barrett would ask, "Is he lost? Is he coming back? Can I help find him?" We tried to explain, but Barrett was too young to comprehend.

Now he's starting to ask a million and one questions about death. We're not sure where it's coming from, but he asks a lot about ghosts. We're not really religious, but we're very spiritual. We've explained that people's spirits are inside them and they live on without the body. I've been using this metaphor with Barrett: Imagine a cup with milk in it. The cup is like our bodies and the milk is the spirit. If the cup shatters, there's still milk.

But we've also been trying to explain how life is finite, how when someone dies, you aren't going to see them again.

DeRon Redmond

City: Burlington

Job: At-Home Dad

Daughter Annika, 8; son Andre, 2

In our belief system, there is an afterlife. After you pass on, you'll go to heaven, you'll be with Jesus. We include family members who have died in our prayers.

Two years ago, when my daughter was 6, my grandmother passed away. It was the first time Annika had had to deal with losing someone close, and she was sad and a little anxious when she first found out. She wanted to know what had happened to Grandma, and she worried that something might happen to one of us. We explained that we're young and healthy and we're not going anywhere. She was good with that.

We let her decide whether she wanted to go to the funeral, and she chose to go. But, last year, when my father-in-law died, she decided not to attend the memorial service. She said, "Why would I want to be around people who are sad and crying?"

We were good with that.

Greg Bemis

Town: Essex Junction

Job: Instructor, Champlain College

Daughter Emma, 11; son Jack, 7

When our cat Hecubus died, the kids were young and they kind of shrugged it off. When our other cat, Lilith, died, Emma was 9 and Jack was 5. They knew she was old, and they seemed sad but not devastated.

But last year, we got a kitten from the shelter, and it died. She'd been listless and just wasn't behaving like a kitten. Over the course of about five hours one night, we saw her spiral downward. In the middle of the night, we decided to take her to the emergency vet and woke Emma, who was very attached to the kitten, to let her know. We couldn't let her wake up and go looking for the kitten, and then have to tell her it had died.

Emma was devastated, and Jack didn't take it very well, either.

Jack has since asked, "Where do you go when you die?"

I tell him, "Some people believe this, and some people believe this. There are a lot of different belief systems out there. It's up to you to find your own path."

Carl Werth

Town: Waterbury Center

Account Executive, WCAX-TV

Son Eli, 21; daughter Zoe, 15

We don't have a really religious household. I'm agnostic, and my wife was raised Jewish. We don't talk about an afterlife because we don't think there is one. We think this is what you get.

I remember talking to both of my kids when my wife's mom passed away. Eli was 15 and Zoe was 10. They saw her health rapidly going downhill. I think they understood that we were all glad to see her suffering end.

By then, they both had a reasonable idea of what death is. We live in the country. When they were small, we would take walks and find all sorts of things. Once, a moose died in the woods below our house, and they both saw it. Later, they called the turn in the trail where they'd seen the carcass "Dead Moose Turn." We've lost pets — cats and fish. It's what happens. It's the circle of life.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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