A death in the family can provide parents with a wonderful opportunity. What better time to teach your children the story of God’s love for all people? The gospel brings great comfort at such a time—comfort that every Christian sooner or later learns to appreciate at the death of a believer.
There are all sorts of clinical reasons why people die; there is only one real cause of death: sin. “The wages of sin is death . . .” But death is not an end. Because of God’s great love for all people, Jesus came into the world to forgive sins and lead the way to eternal life in heaven. “. . . but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Our society does not accurately depict death. In children’s cartoons, no one ever dies. No matter how many times Wile E. Coyote is run over by a steamroller, blown up by gunpowder, or falls off a cliff, he always comes back for more. The lesson seems to be that death doesn’t happen. Some computer games teach children they can “outsmart” death by taking certain actions.
Generally speaking, children younger than five do not see death as ﬁnal. Around the age of 6 or 7, a child begins to grasp the fact that someone who has died is not going to return. What a comfort to know that when people die knowing Jesus as their Savior, they are happy in heaven.
For many children, their ﬁrst experience with death may be the death of a grandparent. For some, the death of a pet may actually be more difﬁcult than that of a relative because they played with the pet every day. The death of a pet may cause a greater sense of loss. You can comfort your children at a time like this by assuring them that God will help them get through the pain and sadness. If they ask whether their pet went to “doggy heaven,” you can say that there may be pets in heaven. We don’t know. The Bible doesn’t tell us. We can only be sure that in heaven our joy will be complete. The Bible is very clear on that last point.
With the death of a close relative, it is also important to realize that children will deal with it in stages. At ﬁrst there may be a denial of the death or even anger about it. This is usually followed by a period of grief. That grief may very well recur at some future event, such as conﬁrmation, a ﬁrst date, or graduation from high school.
As children experience death:
- Encourage them to express their emotions. This is a time to cry and mourn.
- Plan to attend the funeral service, because it provides comfort.
- Talk about death. Children may really wonder, “Can grandma see us now?”
- Talk about the one who died. Tears may ﬂow once again, but it is good to talk about pleasant memories, even if we cry.
- Look for pictures and keepsakes to help keep the memory alive.
- Don’t give wrong information about death, such as “God needed another angel, and that is why Grandpa died.”