Talking to Kids about Death

When Zachary died, Hannah was eleven months old. She came to the hospital after her younger brother died in my arms. She was very curious and touched Zachary’s head. She was all smiles despite the sniffles and tears in the room. She didn’t understand what had happened then, but she does now – I think.

Hannah and Zachary Kids death grief Alexis Marie Chute Wanted Chosen Planned Life after the loss of a child

I have had many discussions with Hannah about where her first little brother went. She calls him Zachy. While I sometimes stretch the truth with Hannah, telling her things like she will go to kid jail if she is mean, I somehow felt compelled to tell her the truth about Zachary.

I told her that Zachary died.

I told her that Mommy and Daddy were very sad – although she must have sensed this. I tried very hard to be happy for her, but she would rest her hand on my thigh every time I cried. Kids know more than we expect; they understand more than we give them credit.

“Zachary was very sick,” I began. “He had a big owie around his heart,” I told her before her second birthday.


Hannah has always wondered, “Where is Zachy?” If he died and is not with us, then he must be somewhere, right? Death, as always, opens up spiritual, theological and metaphysical debates – but children do not have an agenda. They ask because it is human nature to ask. Asking is not wrong. Questioning life is a quintessential part of living. There are some that claim they know for sure what comes after death… I on the other hand fully acknowledge I do not have the answers.

I guess I covered my bases: “Zachary is up in the clouds, in heaven with God. Zachy is all around us, always with us. He is in our hearts forever.” Even though it may sound weird, I do believe all those things are true, all at once. I am still figuring out what I believe, but I do feel my son and my love for him in a tangible way deep in the pit of my being.

When Hannah was younger, she cried for Zachary. Now, at almost five years old, Hannah still talks about her first brother, she picks up the teddy bear the hospital gave us and she plays with a plastic flower we were given at the May Memorial a few years ago. She says, “Zachary’s bear,” and “Zachy’s flower.” She doesn’t cry for Zachary anymore but she does bring him up unprovoked every now and then.

“I wish Zachary was with us,” Hannah will say. “I miss Zachy.” It always blows me away when she says things like this. Hannah is obviously thinking about everything that has happened and the one little person who is absent from our family.

Even when I told Hannah that my close friend miscarried her baby, a child I had talked about with Hannah and that we were both anticipating together, she responded in such a sensitive way. “Now they are just like us,” Hannah said. She meant their family, my friend and her daughter the same age as Hannah, are just like us – they too have lost a child. Even at such a young age, Hannah understood the community of loss.

Every year our family celebrates Zachary’s birth and death day. October 14. This year he would have been four. We have always included Hannah in these celebrations – and in the last few years our third child Eden who is now two. Eden is still young and was not present for the challenging situations, yet he does have the word “dead” and “die” in his vocabulary. On October 14 we always bake a birthday cake for Zachary, we do a special activity as a family, talk about the boy who is not with us, look at Zach’s photographs and write letters and draw pictures for him. The kids participate.

I did not read books or articles that told me, “This is how to talk to kids about grief,” but my intuition tells me that the truth is the best option – at least for my family.

Death is scary. It scares me. Our society must feel the same because we disguise it in make-up and segregate the old in homes and do not talk about the heavy, sorrowful and mysterious passing from this life to whatever follows. Yet, I feel that talking about it, in a way, is like preparation. Studying that which we do not understand and trying to make sense of it somehow takes at least part of the fear and transforms it into humble acceptance.

I hope I am doing the right things for my children. That must be every parent’s wish. I do love that I can talk to my kids about most things – even the death of their brother. In a way I hope this brings us closer together as a family; the bond after surviving something so difficult as the death of a child can either tear people apart or bring them together.

How do you talk to your living children about the death of their sibling?



  1. Candace
    Sep 10, 2014

    I was always truthful with Paige when we lost Emree. She cried with us and also randomly will say she misses her. She had a friend and we discovered her mother’s name was Emree. Paige matter of factly said “We had a daughter named Emree but she died” . It always surprises me how much of a connection she has with her sister even though they never met. Children do understand more then we give them credit for.

    • Alexis Marie
      Sep 18, 2014

      Kids really area amazing. Sometimes it seems like we adults are overly concerned with upsetting others or making them uncomfortable with our story and grief – but kids just say what comes to them. They are so honest and that is tremendously refreshing. I’m glad to hear Paige is doing well. She seems like a brave and spirited young lady. Emree will always be missed.

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