August 14, 2021

I had no idea how to talk to my children about a loved one’s death. I’m not alone.

When I was 16, my uncle died unexpectedly — my first exposure to the death of a loved one. Upon hearing the news, my dad got on a plane and flew to the West Coast to be with my aunt and cousins. When he returned, there was no conversation beyond “Uncle Jimmy died.”

My mother died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, when I was in my late 20s and my father died of cancer four years later. Having never witnessed the grieving process up close before, I felt like something was wrong with me for the intensity of my grief on each parent’s death.

Now as a mother to two small girls, I want to speak to my children about their grandparents and also prepare them for my eventual passing. Living through the past pandemic year, and being inundated with constant news about illness and death, has only made this feeling more urgent. But like many parents, I have no idea about when or how to begin a conversation about death with a child. And apparently, I’m not alone, experts say.