Navigating Parenting When A Loved One Dies



There will come a time in your parenting gig when it all gets really real, real fast. You find yourself stunned and needing to be on point. For me, that moment came earlier this year when my family experienced two unexpected deaths within 11 weeks of each other. 

It was hard. I have 4-year-old twin girls and talking about death was really hard.

When I got the news about the first death, it was early in the morning. I sat in the bathroom as my 4-year-olds were yelling for milk. I remember thinking, “What do I do now?”

That seems to be how all parenting goes it is just an endless stream of handling situations. So I just walked out of the bathroom and continued my morning. I didn’t say anything to them. I have no clue if that was what I was “suppose” to do.  

Flash forward to the funeral, as my husband and I drove to the funeral we were discussing: “How do we do this? What do we tell them? Should we have told them sooner? Maybe we totally screwed this up? How do you explain death? What terms should we use?”

So I hop on google for tips on “handling death with children.”

What the hell? Why am I googling this? Our parents did parenting without google.. I can too.. right? 

So we decided we will go with the flow and answer the questions as they come. 

That is exactly what we did. Our one daughter took everything well and was at peace with the answers we gave. My other, however, was relentless in the “WHY?” questions.

That is when parenting gets real.

See as a parent you are the cook, the toy fixer, the bedtime reader, the playdate organizer, the boo boo fixer… and news flash… you are the philosopher and theologian. 

So when faced with these really hard questions you have to get your head straight and figure out what you believe because these little ones need something to hold on to. 

We returned to our routine after the funeral, but my one daughter continued with the questions. I found myself just dodging them trying to change the subject.

Then BOOM…. I got another phone call in the early morning. I stood in my room crying over the loss of another family member, all while struggling with the fact that I need to get myself together to tell the girls. 

This time around I faced it all head on. I told my daughters that we had another family member who passed and we have to go to another funeral. Then my daughter comes at me with rapid-fire questioning about life and death all while eating some breakfast. 

I sat there thinking, “What the hell do I say to her?”

So then I did something… instead of not talking about it… I put it back on her.

I said, “What do you think happens when you die?” 

She sat there in silence for literally 2 minutes pondering. Then the floodgates opened. She had all these theories and thoughts. I sat there feeling comforted by my 4-year-old daughter! I was stunned.

She ended up coming up with her own idea about death, the burial process, and what happens after you die. I knew that going to this second funeral was going to be much better because we actually talked about it!  I just went with her theories, even if they didn’t match up with mine, I mean she is only 4.  I found peace with her precious ideas and if they bring her comfort in death, then I am all for it. 

You see, whatever your belief system, we can generally agree that there is an unknown. Explaining that unknown, to a child who thinks concretely, is literally the hardest thing as a parent. 

As I look back over those 8 weeks I realized that kids are very intuitive and really smart. It is okay for you as a parent to grieve and show emotion. The hard part is to grieve all while walking a fine line of not causing anxiety to a small person who is still figuring out this world. 

So…if you hopped on Google to find parenting tips about death, and you found this post, this isn’t the “How to Guide.”

This post all about: “I feel for you, I am sorry for your loss, and parenting is really hard at times.” 

In the end, listen, talk and be present… it will all be okay. 

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Cat I
Cat I although not an Ohio native, she and her family have lived in Columbus for 5 years and have come to call the city home. She has three children twin girl and a son. She is a stay-at-home mom by week, and a NICU nurse by weekend. Cat has been blogging for several years. She enjoys sharing witty insight to all things parenting. Cat enjoys minivans, hot coffee (that wasn’t rewarmed 3 times) skinny jeans, spicy food, all things gingham pattern, pretty décor, her crockpot, and skiing. She looks forward to sharing her simple pearls of wisdom.