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Is Grandma coming back?
Help your child understand death

3 myths about dying

  1. Dying hurts. No one ever needs to die in pain. Medications and other therapies are available to help relieve pain if needed. Services like hospice can play a crucial role in helping you understand what to expect.
  2. Withholding fluids and food in the last phase of illness is painful. On the contrary, sometimes fluids or food actually makes a person who is dying more uncomfortable. A decreased interest in food and water is one way the body prepares for the dying process, allowing a person to die more comfortably and peacefully. Dehydration causes your body to release endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers. However, the decision to stop fluids and food is an intensely personal and difficult decision that’s best made after much consideration and discussion between family and doctors.
  3. You see a white light or tunnel. Occasionally people do see a light or tunnel, but more often they experience delusions or hallucinations of deceased loved ones or other pleasant images.

How do you convey the concept of death to a child? After all, her favorite cartoon character repeatedly jumps off cliffs or gets run over by a car and jumps back up again.

But death is permanent, and this can be difficult for children to understand. You may be tempted to avoid discussing the topic altogether, but not talking about death can only cause a youngster to worry more about it and let his or her imagination conjure up the worst. Help your child understand death and cope with it now so he or she can better deal with life’s losses later on.

How you talk about death with your child depends on his or her age, personality and life experiences. Some general tips to get you started:

  • Be open. Let him or her know that there are no dumb questions. Listen carefully; don’t tell your child how to feel. Be prepared to keep answering the same question, such as, “When is Uncle Charlie coming back?” Just calmly explain that he isn’t. And if your child asks you a question you can’t answer, be honest and say, “I don’t know.”
  • Keep it simple. Skip the big words and difficult concepts. Explain that Grandma’s body stopped working because she had lived a long time or that an accident made her body stop working and doctors couldn’t fix it.
  • Avoid euphemisms. Don’t say things like “Grandpa went to sleep” or “Grandpa had to go away” to a young child who will take everything you say literally. Doing so can make your child fearful when bedtime rolls around or any time you have to go away on business.
  • Explain what “sick” means. Just saying “Your brother died because he was sick” may make your child worry whenever he or she gets a cold. Instead, explain that an illness has to be very bad for someone to die.

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