My husband is dying of cancer.
How do I tell our young children about death?
We are Christians
To be able to comfort our children, we adults must truly be convinced ourselves of the glorious promise of Jesus Christ regarding eternal life. Death for us believers means we will be enjoying His presence and the pleasures of heaven forever.
I once spent time with a young divorcee who had an 8-year-old daughter. She had gone to different countries seeking treatment for cancer, but when she realised she was not going to be healed, she asked me to plan her funeral. She told her daughter, “I want you to put on a bright pretty dress because it’s a celebration.” We had a most beautiful funeral service.
A friend once shared how she handled the delicate situation of explaining to her sons – James and John, aged 6 and 4 – about their father’s death.
By the time she got home from the hospital, it was past 2 a.m., so she waited until the following morning to break the news to the boys.
“I brought them to my room, hugged them and sat them down. Then I told them why I didn’t come home the night before, that the hospital had tried to help Papa to breathe again but he didn’t wake up. We all cried,” she shared.
“Then I asked them if they knew where their Papa was. James burst into a song, ‘Heaven is a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace’. He surprised me as I didn’t remember teaching him the song. I said to him, ‘Yes, your Papa is in Heaven, and we will one day see him again when we all go there after we die.’ John cried and said, ‘Papa is with God in Heaven. He’s not coming home again.’ And we all cried for a long time, huddling together.”
My friend also felt it was necessary to tell them it was alright to cry because they loved Papa and would miss him terribly. “I told them that sometimes people, including relatives, might tell them not to cry and to be brave. I said it’s very normal for boys to cry when their daddy or mommy dies.”
Since the children were so young, my friend was mindful not to burden them unnecessarily by giving them grown-up charges such as “be the men of the house and take care of me”, as many traditional Chinese people might say to them. Instead, she assured them that she, together with their uncles and aunts, would take care of them.
To prepare them for the sight of seeing their father’s lifeless body, she took them through the funeral process, explaining what cremation was, what to expect when they saw the casket – that it was Papa’s physical body, it’s cold and stiff but Papa’s spirit is eternal and he’s already with God in Heaven.
Another friend shared how she prepared her two sons for their father’s eventual death. Jane is thankful she had time to get her sons adjusted to the idea that God was not going to heal their father, but would in fact take him home.
In the final month, she spent most of her time with her husband in the hospital and not all that much time with her sons. When the time came, Ryan, 15, was at a school camp while Tim, 12, was at home. Because of the many procedures she had to take care of, she didn’t have time to break the news to them and got two close friends to tell them instead.
“When it was all over, I thought about it and was afraid that I did not do my duty sensitively. Recently, I had an opportunity to ask them how they felt. They said they were fine and didn’t hold anything against me,” Jane said, relieved.
In summary, if we genuinely believe death is the doorway to God’s promised new eternal life, we will be able to convince and prepare our children well to face the event appropriately.
Do you have an issue you need advice on? Write to Dear Goldie at firstname.lastname@example.org for her godly counsel. Selected questions may be featured in this column. If you leave an email address, you will have your question answered, whether it’s published or not.