Home > The Slow Grow, Yellow w/ White Trim > Explaining Death To A Child

Explaining Death To A Child

A few weeks back a friend brought her adult niece to church.  She does this on ocassion, so…nothing new.  The sermon that day was on the wayward son (also known as the prodigal son).  This was a grand slam of a sermon.  I try not to toot my horn, but it really was exquisite.  Well written, music fit perfectly, prayer, communion…everything just great – thank the Holy Spirit for all that.  Anyway, I was a little bummed because there was hardly anyone there.  like 25 people (beautiful summer day…blah blah blah)

After the sending, while Lee was playing some background music, my friend (who had brought the niece) found me and was beaming because her niece is the prodigal and the sermon was just perfect for her.  So…yah, quit feeling sorry for yourself Daniels and recognize that God is doing something just a little bigger than you and your ego.  Anyway – that’s the backdrop to my sad story to come.

I was at the Way Cup Cafe this morning and a friend of mine told me about a horrible tragedy that occurred the night before.  A little boy of 4 was run over by someone looking for a parking spot.  The child died.  There’s no easy way to say that.  My friend was involved in some of the legal matters that followed, and was a little shook up – understandably so.

1 hour later I received a phone call from the niece who showed up to church a few weeks back.  She was present when the accidental death happened.  The family of the little boy had been living with them.  Now she has the horrible task of telling her two children (ages 4 and 6) that their best friend was not coming home and was now dead.

“I was hoping you could give me some help…some ideas…something I can say to my children.”

Oh my God help me.  That was my selfish, little, and very honest prayer.  I don’t know what to say to a child in a situation like that.  What can you say?  Here’s what I do know: the less you have to say, the better.  Jobs friends had it right until they started opening their mouth.  They sat and cried with him for days until they thought they had some kind of answer – that’s when they blew it.

So, what do you say to a 4 and 6  year old about their best friend dying?  I’m not sure, but it will probably be very simple, fact layden, and sad.  There’s no upbeat to something like this.  You can’t scoop in there with a lollypop and say it’s going to be alright because it’s not.  This sucks, and there’s no answer to the question why.  There’s no answer to the question “what kind of God…”

“Kids, I’m sorry to have to tell you this.  Jimmy won’t be coming home anymore because a terrible thing happened.  He was hit by a car and has died.”  Is that it?  Is that all you can say?  Maybe add, “It’s a horrible thing and we don’t know why it happened, but it did.  It’s nobody’s fault.  These things just happen sometimes.”  What do you say to the miriad of possible questions to follow?  “This won’t happen to you”?  “God’s not angry at someone”?

Perhaps this: I don’t understand all of this, but I do know that God loves us and understands all the pain we’re going through.  He’s here with us and will listen to all that we need to say to Him.  You can say anything you need to, and God won’t be upset at you.  Be honest with God and don’t worry about making him angry – he couldn’t be angry with you…God loves you even in the middle of this big, horrible mess.

Friends, if you’re still reading this entry, please pray for me as I try to love and listen and sit with this family.  And more than that…please pray for the family of this little boy – I can’t imagine…and doing so hurts.  Thanks.

  1. Paul Janssen
    July 7, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Been there. You’re handling the situation honestly, and openly, and pastorally, as I would expect from you. When I’ve done this, I’ve added two things. One — not just the abstract “God loves you,” but alongside that — “I love you.” The point: God lives in and through us as we reach out to the little ones. Two — if the kids have questions about what’s next for the one who died — I have said “she’s alive now in a different way.” Things have different ways of being alive. I think this comports with Paul’s teaching about the spiritual body, but leaves specifics open to be filled in later. At least in my experience, some little ones have found comfort in those words. Oh — and third thing, which I’m sure you’re already well onto — minister to those around the children, so they have support when the kids ask these kinds of things of them in the middle of the night. They’re the ones on the front lines, not us, anyway. Peace be with you!

  2. July 7, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    Thanks, Paul. As the day has transpired, it looks like I won’t be able to meet with the children, but just the mother. I’ll pass on your insights; they’re very helpful.

  3. Andrea DeWard
    July 8, 2010 at 10:48 am

    Thanks for this Jim. We went through all this when a baby from our church died after months of daily and nightly prayers for him. I was amazed how our kids at 4 and 5 dealt with it and shared in the process compassionately with their 3 little friends, the older siblings, who stayed at our house the week after he died.
    A few wonderful children’s books (and I know there are more) that we’ve used are “What is Heaven Like?” by Beverly Lewis (about a Grandpa who died and touches on the sadness as well as hope) and “God Gave Us Heaven” by Lisa Tawn Bergren (shows polar bear family talking about heaven – good for very young kids) and “There’s a Party in Heaven” by Gary Bower (an illustration of Jesus’ nail scar spurred on a powerful conversation with my son about how Jesus died for us).
    Thanks for these good words, a good reminder as I think about the possibility of my dad’s death from cancer and how we will talk to our kids if that happens.

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