How Do You Explain Death To A 6-Year-Old?
A few weeks ago, I shared my pain as I dealt with the death of my best friend, Bob Irish. I have dealt with death in the past, and I am sure I will deal with it again in the future. But I stopped in my tracks when my 6-year-old daughter, Hayli, comprehended the finality of losing a loved one.
Bob passed away on December 29, 2013 at the age of 46. My heart broke when she realized that Bob was someone’s daddy, and she asked with more concern than I have ever seen in her eyes, “Dada, are you going to die when you’re 46?”
She knows that my grandparents are in Heaven, but she really doesn’t remember them. She recognizes them in photos and home movies, but has always assumed that they live with Jesus, and really never questioned how they got there. When the reality hit her that people that she loves won’t be here forever, she suddenly got very concerned about everyone.
My wife and I sat her down for a discussion. We explained to her that people don’t live forever, and that it’s important to treat people with kindness and compassion. And although we don’t know how long we have on Earth, we never know what day will be our last. That’s why it’s important to to take care of yourself and your loved ones, and to make fantastic memories that you can cherish and hold on to.
We also explained that some people can live to 100 and then some, while others don’t get that chance. While Bobby’s daddy only made it to 46, my dad is going to turn 59 this year, my wife’s dad is in his 60s, and my one remaining grandparent just turned 77. Then you also have people like Betty White, Larry King, and even J. Patrick who seem so old, yet full of life, that they probably attended The Last Supper.
We made it clear that you have to live each day to the fullest, enjoy the time you have with the people you care about, and be the best person you can be. While we don’t know when our time is up, we have to make the most of it. We also stressed to her that you can’t worry about when we will die, because then you end up more focused on dying than on living.
We gave her a great big hug, and she returned the favor. I told her that as sad as I was about the loss of my friend, we had some great times and I will keep those memories in my heart for as long as I live.
Over the weekend, I invited Bobby and his family over, and we watched some home movies that I took a few years back when his dad, Bob, came to visit. We laughed as we watched him play with my kids, and laughed some more as we told stories about him. Hayli, who was in the room, saw us reminiscing and remembering. She came up to me, gave me a huge, hearty, hefty Hayli hug, and said “I love you, Dada!” before she went back to playing.
Parenting is not easy, but I think my wife and I are doing alright.