Teaching About Grief and the Great Beyond

by Heligirl on April 16, 2012

in Mom Tip Monday,Parenting Articles

You’re lucky if you get to the point where a child asks “where do I go when I die?” It means the topic of death didn’t come up until they were old enough to really think this up on their own and ask.

Sadly, in this household, we had to discuss it before it was really thought about by the kids.

Yesterday my sweet dog of more than 13 years passed away. The kids saw me hold his limp lifeless body and come completely unglued with grief. My best friend and sweet puppy, gone. I couldn’t remember life without him. I couldn’t contain my grief.

My son did all his little heart could do to try to help me feel better – kiss me and tell me it’s all better, offer to get me a band aid and give me hugs.

My daughter covered her ears and looked worried. That brought me back to my senses. I needed to pull it together for them. Maybe we could all learn something about grief and death.

I’m not an outwardly religious person. I don’t go to church much and we don’t talk much of religion. I believe God is around and in us all and we honor Him through our actions and how we treat each other and ourselves. So how do I share that ambiguity with 2 and 4 year olds?

After some time alone I sat down with them and tried in the simplest terms to explain that Jack was gone. He was in a very special place called Heaven. Dogs, and everything else including us, are created by God. By being good, honest and kind, we too will be able to one day go there as well and will be together with Jack again one day.

In the meantime, Jack isn’t here anymore. And that makes me very sad. I miss him. I need a little time to miss him and cry to help me feel better. And, you know what, just like when I give you hugs and kisses when you cry and it makes you feel better, same with me.

As the day progressed and crying jags suddenly hit, the kids would come to me and give me hugs. Sweetness wasn’t so afraid or covering her ears as she did in the beginning. She just smiled really big, came over and hugged me.

At one point she went over to our other dog, who was sleeping and gave him a close look, then reported to me that it was OK, he was just sleeping. “I saw him move, so it’s OK.”

I sure hope she doesn’t fear the death of another pet or person because of my reaction. I hope I’ve showen her she can handle it and even have a little control by simply coming up and giving me hugs and kisses when I’m sad.

I have no clue if I’m doing this well or not. I didn’t actually read up on it before it hit. This is one of those fly by the seat of your pants kind of things.

I’d sure love your thoughts. How did you teach about grief and the hear after, whatever it is you believe?


Liz F April 16, 2012 at 10:46 am

D is still too young to understand it. My grandmother passed away back in January and he seemed to know that something was really off, as he spent the whole day snuggling with me (unusual for him at this stage.) I know it’ll come eventually, probably in the next year or so because he’ll see pictures of him sitting on Great Grandma’s lap and ask why he hasn’t seen her in a long time.

I know I’ve said it a few times before, but I am so sorry for your loss 🙁 We lost our Golden when I was 19 and it was SO hard.

Twitter: Heligirl
April 16, 2012 at 6:33 pm

Thanks Liz. Little D will get it one day. Hopefully he’ll keep happy memories of her in the meantime and remember them when you have that talk.

Kris April 16, 2012 at 2:07 pm

No advice but I am so sorry for your loss – just know that you are being REAL in your emotions and still sensitive to their reactions and questions..and that’s the best thing you can do!

Twitter: Heligirl
April 16, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Thanks Kris. Thank you very much my friend. It’s a tough balance when your heart is breaking. I’ve taken to sneaking out to the front steps, where I used to sit with my puppy, and just cry (and talk to my puppy in case he’s there listening). It’s how I can manage to keep a happier face inside with the kids.

Susan April 16, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Jen, first off, I am so very sorry for your loss. What a real heart breaker.

I started teaching Little Man when birds would fly into our picture window and would die. We usually get at least one a year. Starting when he showed an interest in why the bird didn’t move or fly away any more, I explained that the bird’s body died, but that the spirit of the bird was now completely free and expanded to everywhere around us. It’s spirit was no longer trapped inside that little body.

For some reason, that explanation clicked with him. We would talk about his one Grandpa (that he was named for), who died before he was born. I would tell Little Man that even though his Grandpa was not here in a body, he is all around in spirit, and he can talk to Grandpa any time he wants.

When my Dad passed away recently, it was my son who reminded me that everything is ok, that life is all about change, and that my Dad is still around. He is right.

If you want to read a book that definitely made me feel much more comfortable with the idea of death and dying, I just read Dying to Be Me, by Anita Moorjani. She had cancer that ravaged her body to the point of near death. During her near death experience, she describes what happened. And when she came back, her cancer was healed. I wish everyone on the planet would read this book.

In the meanwhile, please be gentle with yourself and let the grief process happen. My heart is with you.
Susan recently posted: When Will She Come Back?

Twitter: Heligirl
April 16, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Oh Susan, thank you so much for this great story. How inspiring. I love how you’ve done that. When I can talk to Jack (my puppy) without crying I will share how he’s free of his body and still around us in spirit. I’m going to go find that book. Thank you for the recommendation. And thank you for all your wonderful support.

Twitter: NatashaJ
May 8, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Hi Jen – I’m sorry to hear about your dog. It’s never easy to lose a pet that is so loved and such a part of our lives. We did this almost a year ago with our dog and my then 3 y.o. seemed to accept a simple explanation of “she went to be in Heaven with Jesus.” Only this year has she made the connection and said, “I don’t want to die.” I usually try distraction or telling her that that is so far away we don’t even need to worry about it. It’s hard no matter what. Here’s what I wrote about losing Isis and what me and the kids learned from having her around. http://www.natashaj.com/2011/05/rip-isis-2002-2011.html

Glad you have the puppy to lift some of the burden of grief. Such is the circle of life.
NatashaJ recently posted: Power hitter

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