Different Circumstances, Different Explanations

Learn to adjust conversations with children according to the circumstances of their loved one's death.

Sometimes a long illness might give families time to confront the possibility of death. Other times, the death of a loved one comes suddenly, as in the case of an accident or suicide. You’ll want to approach the situation differently depending on the circumstances.

If a loved one dies after a long illness…

It still may not be possible to prepare fully for their death; many overwhelming and conflicting emotions come up. After a loved one dies, kids and adults may feel that some things have become easier. It’s even common for children to feel excited about doing things they couldn’t do during a parent’s illness. Reassure kids that all of their feelings are okay.

If a loved one’s death is sudden…

It’s not unusual for children to develop fears about their personal safety or about the death of the surviving parent. You can help them address these fears so they can move forward.

In the case of suicide…

It’s important to stress that the person who died had an illness. You might say, for instance, “Your daddy’s brain wasn’t healthy and that made him feel so sad and confused that he did something that caused him to die. This is the kind of sickness that you can’t catch like a cold.” Try to focus on the positive memories, instead of how he or she died. Empower children by helping them decide how much information they want to share with other people, and with whom.

If you’re worried about children’s behavior, reach out for professional help, especially if you fear children will do harm to themselves or others.