How To Explain Death to Children

I was probably about six years old when my mother explained death to me. My newly-born cousin died and I went with my parents to the graveside service, but I stayed in the car. Curious about what was happening, I asked Mom and her explanation went something like this:

We are Two Parts

If I asked you to bring me milk from the kitchen, what would you bring me? . . . .Yes, milk, but you would have something else with you. Think for a minute and let me know what that would be. . . .  If I asked you to bring me milk, you would bring me milk – in a carton. You can’t really carry milk without some kind of container, a carton.  

People are made like the milk and the carton. There’s the part of us everyone sees – our body. That’s our carton, our container. People’s cartons come in all shapes and sizes. Our cartons grow as we get older. Inside our cartons, inside our body, we carry the part of us that makes who we really are. People call it different things. In our family, we call it your soul. Others sometimes call it your spirit or your personality. Your soul is made up of three parts: your mind where you think, your heart where you feel, and your will where you make decisions. We can’t see souls, but it is the part of you that looks out the windows of your carton – your eyes. Look at me. My soul is looking out my eyes and is looking at your eyes and your soul is looking back at me. Your soul stays in your body unless there’s a problem with your body, just like milk stays in the carton unless there are problems with the carton.

What Happens When the Carton Fails

What kinds of problems would cause milk to come out of the carton? . . . When something is working for a long time, it gets tired and becomes weaker. If the carton gets old or isn’t taken care of, it might get holes or become weak. Then, it won’t be able to hold the milk anymore. That usually takes a long time. When people get old, their bodies have been working for a long time. Their bodies become tired. Eventually it either starts working the wrong way or it stops working altogether. Often doctors can help along the way, but eventually, everyone’s body will stop working. Remember that usually doesn’t happen until you are old.

If there is a hole in the carton or it gets a tear that’s deep enough and big enough and isn’t fixed, then the milk will leak out. The same thing is true for your body and your soul. Your body has a lot of ways it takes care of itself and we have doctors who can usually fix problems with your body. But sometimes they can’t fix the problem, and if that happens, eventually your body will not be able to hold your soul any more. (That’s what happened with your cousin. [then she explained in simple terms what had happened]) Remember your body is strong and will work to heal itself and we have doctors who can help if your body has problems.

Let’s talk a bit about what happens when your body and soul are separated – like when the milk is not in the carton anymore. When the milk is out of the carton, the carton is empty. The thing that made it a milk carton – the milk – is not there. When your soul leaves your body, the part of you that makes you move and laugh and cry and grow and learn is not there anymore. That part of you goes back to God. He made it and He welcomes you back when you die. Other families believe other things, but I want you to know what we believe first.

This is a very brief overview of the conversation and conversations I have had with many children who have experienced death.  I hope you find it helpful.

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