The last time my dad spoke was in joy over seeing his new great-grandson. A few days later he was gone.
Now my mother has died. It took some time for it to sink in that I will never, ever be able to talk to them again—until heaven.
How do you explain death to a little one? We hardly understand it ourselves.
What a shock. The person is alive one day and then suddenly not alive anymore.
And the Bible says so little about our heavenly interactions with others.
So how do we help our little ones understand death when someone near them dies?
Each of our daughters was almost two years old when a grandmother died.
First one great-grandmother, then another, and then the adopted grandmother who lived next door.
These deaths seemed only negative at the time, since we were not ready to lose these special people. We even joked that we had better not have another child–not wanting to lose another grandmother when that child was two!
But the passing years have increased my gratefulness for the timing of those deaths. Each of our little girls learned early how to say goodbye to a loved one who had died.
People sometimes warned that our children would find it traumatic to go to a funeral home. We found, however, that our girls did not experience those visits as traumatic.
Though initially surprised by adult expressions of grief, they learned that death is a normal part of life. They needed to be taught to handle it well.
Though they still missed their special grandmothers, they experienced no trauma from the public grieving process.
Most importantly, they learned that Jesus went to prepare a place for us to live with him after we die. They knew their grandmothers loved Jesus and went to be with him and that we would join them someday.
One of our fun family stories is of our little one informing visiting relatives that Grandma would not be able to go out for lunch with us that day, because she was still in heaven.
I had explained to her when Grandma died, that it meant we wouldn’t be able to see her anymore because she had gone to heaven to be with Jesus.
What I had not realized was that she would think going to heaven was like Daddy going on a business trip. When her time was done, she assumed Grandma would come back.
I thought of that story again in a different way when that same daughter brought her fourteen-month-old son to my mother’s death bed to help me grieve her passing.
Though he is too little to understand it much, we both found it precious to see him wave to his Great-Nana and say “Bye, bye.”
He did not know enough about death yet to be sad, but he knew enough to give her a respectful farewell. It was good. Meeting death with little ones has emphasized for me that God is bigger than death.