Talking with children about death

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The loss of the family dog helps one family discuss life

By Amy Walker

Our beloved dog, Bella, has died. Death is never easy, and as hard as losing Bella has been, having our daughters be part of the loss made it even harder. I am not one to shy away from emotion or difficult conversations, as those who know me can undeniably attest, but I found myself dreading, dread-ing navigating this part of life with my girls. Most everything in me wanted to shield them from it all: the pain, the questions, the tears.

By God’s grace, my husband and I were able to reach down deep into the reserves one mysteriously finds in certain moments of parenting and discover strength and courage. We held our daughters’ hands tight as we waded into the sadness of watching our dog die and the grief that came with her death. My husband and I took on questions about what heaven is like, why death exists and if we will ever see Bella again.

Now let me tell you, there were no easy answers, not for me anyway. The questions themselves caused me pain and uneasiness; many of them were the very reason I wanted to avoid this whole death business in the first place. But how will my children learn about hope if I, a parent, do not take the time or have the courage to enter into these hard conversations?

If I do not speak now into the finality and mystery of dying, how will they ever learn about a Savior who has conquered this seemingly unconquerable thing called death and even (can it be so?) taken away its sting? I don’t have all the answers, but I can listen, and I can talk about mystery and hope.

I can be gently honest with my daughters about questions of my own and reassure them that God is so much bigger than even a mommy’s doubts and fears. I can tell them that I do, even in the face of death, believe. And there it is: an open-handed moment where they can begin to truly learn about faith. A moment they can begin to see in our lives that Jesus really is the answer to all things. Not just Sunday school things, but everything, even life and death.

Somewhere in all the heaviness something unexpected and merciful happened. Instead of our conversations being about death, we began to talk more and more about life. We talked about the gift of life, the preciousness of it, the wonder and adventure of being alive (alive!) here in this moment.

A few days after Bella died our family gathered to celebrate her life. We shared a delicious dinner with special glasses full of sparkling cider, and we made a toast to our loyal, good dog. We shared our favorite memories of her, how much we’ll miss her and the gift of being loved and cherished.

This, then, is what our family has learned: Love and life are worth celebrating. There are times when courage we do not think we have is required. There are moments when all you can do is be held (or hold) and weep. And, there will be terrible losses when only the name of Jesus will provide any kind of hope or comfort. I have also learned that sometimes the best a fumbling parent can do is to raise a glass of sparkling cider and toast something precious, messy and beautiful. Here’s to life.

 

Amy Walker and her family attend Trailhead Church, a USMB congregation in Centennial, Colo.

CL Archives
This article is part of the CL Archives. Articles published between August 2017 and July 2008 were posted on a previous website and are archived here for your convenience. We have also posted occasional articles published prior to 2008 as part of the archive. To report a problem with the archived article, please contact the CL editor at editor@usmb.org.

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