Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Children Want the Truth

Book: Death Is Stupid, Anastasia Higginbotham

The things we tell children about death can make them think there is a terrible force waiting in the darkness to snatch people away, or worse, make them think that they killed grandma because of something they said.

Anastasia Higginbotham lays out the problem in her book — adults want the illusion; children want the truth.

Adults want to shield children from pain, so they say stupid things like “Grandma is resting.” Or they try to make death sound like a good thing. When we say, “Grandma’s in a better place.” children think that if they die, then they will be in a better place, which, of course, is where they want to go right now.

There are moments in the book when I laughed out loud, like when a parent says, “We lost Grandma,” and the child says, “Then find her.”

If you’re looking for a book to give to children to help them understand the death of someone they loved, this is an excellent place to start. Kids need to know that dying is not a punishment.

If we don’t tell children the truth about death, their imaginations will go into overdrive. They may not be able to understand everything that is going on, but if we’re upfront with them, they will understand that whatever death is, it’s part of life, and they will gradually come to know how this is so. The most important thing we can do is ask children how they’re feeling, and answer the questions they have honestly.

The first experience many children have with death is that of a family pet. When my family’s dog died, mom did not hide the truth. She said that she backed over Pepper with her car. We saw his unmoving body, wrapped him up, and we buried him in the back yard. While I don’t recall us having any discussion about the meaning of death, it was clear to me that death meant forever.

“It takes courage to go on living when the one you love has died,” Higginbotham says, “and to accept that death cannot be changed.”

The book is neatly illustrated with creative montages of photos, drawings and cutouts. At the end of the book, there are activities that kids can do to keep their connections with their loved ones.

Higginbotham’s book makes death less scary. It’s also for adults.


  1. love this...after my husband died from cancer two adults men who I had known for some time, told me their dads died of cancer. They did not get see them in the hospital or afterwards. Their mom didn't say anything much about the absence. I have to wonder if this is part of why these to talented mature men use drugs regularly for anxiety relief.

    1. I wouldn't be surprised if this were the case, Sue.

  2. Thank you for this piece, Mark ~ I especially appreciate your final statement, "It's also for adults." I think that is true for so many books in that genre. (See "Using Children's Books to Help with Grief," http://bit.ly/w4PFMh) ♥

  3. It's like when I hear a children's sermon in church, which is the condensed or simple version of the adult sermon that is coming. Often I like the children's sermon better. The pastor speaks clearly, there are no extra words, and she gets right to the point. And the attention span of adults these days, Marty, is so short.

  4. I don't know that I can lose myself in nature but I know that it nourishes me. When they took his body away I took the dog out on the lake and we skied for an hour or more and it was so beautiful.

    1. I am so thankful that nature was there for you, Susan. What you did sounds perfect, and the image I have brings me a sense of comfort.