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How To Talk To Your Children About Grief, Loss, and Death

Empty Swings At Playground On Dull Day

My husband died when my children were three and five years old. I realize that’s a sudden and abrupt way to start, but it happened to us very suddenly and abruptly, and I’ve rarely found a way to ease into that introduction.

Death came to our home in only twelve hours. Emergency room doctors diagnosed the flu, but it masked an infection in Robb’s blood stream. My husband was 35 and healthy, so very much here, and he died the next morning in our bedroom, two days before Christmas, 2010. My children slept in their beds while my husband’s spirit slipped through my fingers. I became a widowed single mom, 31-years-old, with two children not yet in kindergarten. It has been as bad as it sounds.

Nearly five years later, my guys are now eight and ten years old. I have dated but I haven’t remarried, so we’ve become a rock solid trio in a lifeboat big enough for three. We’ve been putting our pieces together, building a life out of meals and days and conversations, and sometimes the things we talk about are among the truest, most honest and raw topics and questions. Because that’s the way of death. It is true, honest, and raw, and I have learned that I must teach my children to talk about it if they will someday grow into men who can tell their own stories.

Here are a few things I know about talking to your children about grief, loss, and death.

They can handle the conversation. You can trust a human being with conversations about death, even small children who shouldn’t have to understand what it is. Let them talk, let them ask their questions, and allow them to say what they need to say. Healing comes in telling the stories a thousand times.

Let them process differently. When my boys were very small, their understanding of our family’s heartbreak came out in their play. My son lined up his matchbox cars on the kitchen floor, pairing them off as little married matchbox-car-couples, except for one little red car who parked alone “because her husband died.” For a long time, while other children played House or School, my children played a game called Daddy is Dying. A child’s work is his play. Children will put together the pieces of their world, broken or whole, when we let them work it out with their hands, words, and imaginations.

Click here to read the rest of my thoughts in my article
in the Parenting Pages of PJ Media.

Empty Swings At Playground On Dull Day


Tricia Lott Williford

Comments are closed

  1. Well written Tricia! Thinking of you and the boys.

    love from Hamilton Ontario Canada.

  2. Tricia, I was introduced to your blog while I was going through something very similar but completely different. In May 2010, my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We were told from day 1, there is no cure, we will try treatments to give you as much time as we can. 18 months later, October 10, 2011, he was gone. My children were 9 and 15. I was 36. I had time to prepare my kids, and myself. For me, I wouldn’t say it was easier, but it did help when the time came I was able to focus on my kids. And I was able to say goodbye, have those “hard” conversations with my husband that no one wants to have. And I’m thankful for those times. I know everything I do, I have his blessing. Your blog has helped me see that no matter how the tragedy comes, we all deal different, there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and you NEVER know from one day to the next how you are going to feel. I have since remarried, I didn’t date, just one guy, my high school sweetheart and I found each other again. I still read your blog. It’s very encouraging and I thank you for it. We actually met once, at Southeast Christian Church. They were doing their neighborhood help weekend and I think they built a deck or something for you and they completely landscaped my yard. I had just been told my husband had maybe a few weeks to a few months left. They all prayed over me and my kids. You and your boys were standing next to me on the stage. Who knew how small this world really is! Again, thank you for being able to so openly talk about your experience. It truely does help others! God Bless!

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