Helping a child cope with the loss of a loved one.

In the last week, my husband and dearest friend have lost their brothers. My husband’s brother is named Chris. He was only 46 and left behind his wife, 10-year-old and a four-year old children. My dearest friends brother is named Ivan. He is also my husband’s dear friend, my friend and a family friend. He was 39 and leaves behind his wife, a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old.

Bereavement is tough to say the least and when experiencing two losses at the same time, the layers of pain run very deep. Layers of loss, pain, confusion, uncertainty and empathy for the families can put you in an emotional trance that evolves and then moves backwards from minute to minute.  I don’t know what the right thing to say is… I just know that if given the opportunity; I would sit with their pain so they could get just a moment… one single moment of relief. Unfortunately, no one has made a book, article, tool or app for that.

There are several commonalities with these beautiful beings but the one that sticks the most is “How do you explain this to children?”. When Chris passed away, I had some time to do some research and  came up with the following info. I felt compelled to share it in case any of you are going through this or know someone who has had a loss and doesn’t know how to explain it to children. Below are a three talking points, three recommended books and a poem by Robert Keys. They can be used for all children that are impacted by the loss; cousins, siblings, friends of family.

These are three talking points to consider when breaking the news to a child.  I try to only use research based advise that will give the best short and long-term results. I think it’s important to use research based info instead of winging it since this in no way comes natural to me.  Of course, you have to choose what you feel is best for the situation but the are just some guide posts.

  1. Assure the child that you, the other adults in their family and all of their loved ones are safe.
  2. Consider not telling the child to “be strong”. It is important that the child be able to openly and freely  process and grieve. Telling the child to be strong may result in the child feeling/believing it is wrong to be emotional. There are some short periods of time where numbing out is necessary. If you numb out too much though, you are only feeding the wolf. Consider telling the child that you are always here for them. Ask the child how they are feeling. Involve the child in the services.
  3. When supporting children, I’ve had the most luck with the following- You can use the metaphor of the ocean to explain bereavement. Something like “There are many waves and some are stronger than others. In the beginning, you may feel like the waves are very close to each other. Just know that the wave will eventually crash and you will have a moment of calm before the next wave comes to shore.” When the child seems to be suffering deeply, you can ask “What part of the wave are you on now?”. If they will allow you , you can hold their hand until the wave crashes. Hugging a child with their heart pressed against yours is also very cathartic. 

These three books have been so helpful to my children as well as some of their friends (and myself and other adult friends).

  1. Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children Bryan Mellonie & Robert Ingpen  Amazon link
  2. The Invisible String by Patrick Karst  Amazon link
  3. The Fall of Freddie the Leaf -Leo Buscalgia Amzn link

Article/cheat sheet on sitting down and breaking the news to children-

Here is a poem for the adults and even for the kids to lift your spirits… even if just for a moment. Relish in the calm.

Hokusai says

Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing

He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive —
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn’t matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.

He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.

– Roger Keyes


I love you Steve. I love you Christine. I am here with you in the deepest parts of the ocean, and the most shallow parts of the shore.

Thank you for taking time to read this. If you have any other recommendations on how to help children cope with loss- please share. 

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