Your dog dies. Your child finds a dead bird on your lawn. A grandparent passes away. Your child hears a news story about someone killed in a car accident. A parent is dying of cancer. Every child will encounter a death at some point before adulthood.
We have a lot of information about talking to kids about sex, but not nearly as much about death.
It’s not just that we’re uncomfortable talking about death (though we definitely are), it’s more than that. We are a ‘death denying’ society. We like to pretend it doesn’t exist. We like to keep it as far away from our daily lives as possible. We spend as little time as possible with anything that reminds us of our own mortality. The work of caring for the dead has been commercialized. The practice of wakes, where we sit with the body for long periods of time, are becoming less and less common. We try not to think about it. Despite all of our denial, death comes to us all. We will all encounter it and will experience the loss it brings when it encounters someone near to us.
But what if someone had talked to us about it when we were children; talked about it as just one part of the cycle of life? Maybe we’d be better prepared, understand it better, learn to grow from it and not become stuck when grief actually did arrive.
I came across the book, “I Found a Dead Bird – the Kids Guide to the Cycle of Life & Death” by Jan Thornhill at a library used book sale. It reads like a fun science/anthropology book with lots of pictures and a bit of snarky wit. It covers insects, animals, plants and people, disease, accidents, and violence. It speaks briefly about grief and after-death beliefs.
Talk to your kids about death before grief comes knocking. It’s the best preparation you can give them.
I would recommend this book as a part of your children’s life education, not as a response to a major loss. It is not designed as a therapeutic guide. It puts death into perspective. It puts human death into perspective and normalizes all aspects of death.
*Unfortunately, McNally Robinson does not carry this book. I’ve linked to it on Amazon.ca.
For more on grief see Good Grief Work
And also Giving Grief the Time of Day