Why We Share Death With Our Children

Ariel Swift

My children don't have grandpas any longer. My father-in-law died when my daughter was three, and my dad died when she was six, just four months after my son was born.

As a family, we have chosen to share a lot with our children. We discuss our bodies, feelings, and even politics. When we learned my father-in-law was ill, and then of each progression of his cancer, we brought our daughter along for the realization that we would need to be gentle with him, that he would not be able to lift and play on the floor, and eventually that we were visiting to say we loved him and goodbye.

She was introduced to grief and loss gradually. Grief where we were sad, but calmly so. Grief where we laid a cherished father to rest and lovingly moved into a life adjusting to the new world without him.

Grief was gradual, and then it wasn't.

This last year, my children witnessed a new kind of response to death. A new type of sudden grief. Grief that left their mother laying on the floor. A grief that showed them how an open wound could walk around, continue with life, laugh even, and then spontaneously break down — a grief that is not neat and organized.

During this time we had to hope we had encouraged enough trust and bravery in our relationship to allow for honest emotions to be met with more honest reactions. And we were happy to learn we had.

This year of grief has brought us closer together. It has bonded our family in a way that only tragedy can. Our family values of honesty and compassion were cemented with discussions of responsibilities and pain.

And a significant fact was realized by a six-year-old: that death is part of life. Death is not a secret. Death is not a hushed topic. We have decided to honor those who have died in our family by talking openly that those lost can no longer add to their own stories. We honor them by sharing when we miss them, and when we remember their joy, and when we tell of their traditions we pass on.

We're choosing to share with our children a new kind of love that only death can teach - that grief is not something to get over but a part of our lives that honors our love for those we've lost. We show grief is valuable, grief is unique to every person feeling it, and grief is love.

We've decided to share death with our children. And it has made us all more precious to each other.

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