Q&A: Fears of parents’ death

Anonymous wrote in to ask about her 7-year-old's escalating fears that both his parents would die. She wondered if these fears could be linked to fears of the start of school.

My ears perked up because my 8-year-old has been expressing some of the same fears lately, that his dad and I woudl die. I'd been thinking it was connected to the divorce and our shared custody, so I got back to Anonymous and asked about her family situation. She and her son's father are happily married and are both home reasonable amounts of time (no extreme work schedules) and everything's good with her 7-year-old's older sister, who never went through these same fears (or at least never expressed them).

Since Anonymous and I have virtually oppposite family situations, yet our kids are going through the same thing, it doesn't seem like the two households or the start of school (we haven't started yet here) could be The Cause, although they might be adding stress to our kids.

I wonder if this isn't an age at which kids are becoming way more independent and are separating form their parents, and that the fear of their parents' death is a reaction to that. It almost seems like the separation anxiety phase of right around 2 years old, when the kids are starting to be so much more competent and independent (especially when they can talk and communicate effectively) and their reaction to it is to get clingy and hold closer to one or both parents.

I know that my 8-year-old has gone through a huge increase in fluency this summer, and seems almost like an adult now in his competencies. I wonder if this leap in fluency is what's causing the fears, which are more of an independence regression than actual fears specifically of death? So the start of school could execerbate that, but isn't causing it. And the back-and-forth between two households could be exacerbating it, but isn't causing it, either.

What do you all think? Have any of you gone through this with a kid in the 7-9-year-old age range? How did your child come out of it? How did you assure your child that s/he'd be safe no matter what happend? (I think the most frustrating part of it for me is that there's no way to say "I won't die" because clearly I'm going to die. I can point out forever that his grandparents have lived long lives and he has two living great-grandmothers, but that doesn't help the immediate fear.) Thoughts? Parallel situations?

54 thoughts on “Q&A: Fears of parents’ death”

  1. I know that I went through that same fear when I was that age. For me, it was directly tied to this logic: my parents are the same age as other people’s grandparents (my mom was 45 when I was born); my grandparents are dead (one recently at that time); therefore, my parents are going to die. I missed many many days of school that year faking illness (and my mom just let me stay home, so there is that way to deal with it).So, I wonder if they have lost someone close, or if they know someone who has lost someone close, or particularly if they have a friend or a classmate who has lost a parent? I also absolutely think that leaving parents to go to school all day exacerbate the situation.

  2. Reaching back to a child development class I took a looooong time ago, I think 9-ish is the age when death is understood and kids realize it is permanent. Not sure this helps, but makes some sense.

  3. i don’t remember having big, recurring issues about this, but whenever the death of my parents *did* cross my mind, it was helpful to know they had plans. they told us several times in different brief but serious conversations what would happen if they both died – we would go to my aunt’s and live with her family. they discussed their wills & those plans simply. i liked knowing that my parents had thought about this stuff & had my back. for me, the death issue was more about ‘what would happen if…’ so this was positive knowledge.

  4. We’re not quite to 7 yet but I wonder if this is one of those cycles (along the lines of 3 1/2, 7, 14, 28) – I remember late 3/early 4 was an awful time for worrying about that. I wonder if it comes back at those key points, in a more mature form?

  5. I have not experienced this as a parent, but I saw it often as a therapist. It was pretty common in children of that age range, about 6-10 years.Fun fact! The most common childhood fears are, in rank order:
    1) Spiders
    2) Death
    3) War
    4) Illness
    5) The Dark
    Incidentally, parents arguing makes the top ten, although it ranks higher for girls as a worry.
    (based on research…I didn’t just make this up!)

  6. I wonder if it’s a personality thing, as much as a developmental stage. My boys are 7 and 9; the 9 yr old never went through this but it’s been an issue for the 7 yr old. 9 yr. old is not a worrier but 7 yr. old has always been an anxious little guy. Independence is hard for him, he hates being alone, has many other fears, etc. His fear of us dying is consistent with the bigger picture of who he is and we’ve tried to handle it as such.It’s a tough one though, because *I* fear it just as much, or maybe even more, than he does. I can honestly comfort him that robbers aren’t going to take his special blanket and that our house is unlikely to be struck by lightning. But his fear of growing up without mom and dad is one of my deepest fears as well. And I’m sure that comes across to him when I talk about it. Hard stuff.

  7. I find this to be a fear that is hard to comfort, because yes, I am going to die, but hopefully not for a long time (but I don’t know for sure).Does anyone have a way to comfort a child about this fear?
    I could mention our wills but I think that could make things worse because OMG, yes, my parents think they’re going to die too…or, oh, if you die I get to live with my fun-cousins?!! Yipee.

  8. Younger definitely expresses interest/trepidation in the concept of death. She’s 4… Just last night, actually, we were fielding questions about what would happen if we all died before the cat did. (“I really hope that doesn’t happen,” DH muttered under his breath.)Here’s how we respond, and I fully acknowledge it may not be the “best” way–we always say something like, “Yes, we will die, when we are very, very old, and that’s not for a long, long time.” I personally can’t let myself get caught up with what ifs. (For example, how, yes, it’s possible I may die tomorrow.) I mean, it upsets me. And I prefer to keep it simple (and honest). This response has so far been satisfactory… there haven’t been further questions, or any seeming anxiety, that I can tell. We have overheard her during imaginary play saying she didn’t want to play the role of the Grandma because she didn’t want to die. Kind of disturbing, yes, but also shows me that she associates dying with being old, which at this age is how I would like her to understand it. Now, if something horrible happens that requires me to explain that sometimes people (or pets) die while young, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.Also, I vividly remember nightmares I had at about age 6 about my parents dying… seriously, the most terrifying nightmares of my life, that I still remember in detail. I agree there must be some connection between starting school and brain development, etc.

  9. Friend’s kid in that age range (mine are younger) popped out with questions about eating corpses, when she and her sister were riding in my car, past a cemetery. I downplayed the actual occurrence of corpse-eating, stayed factual, and reported the line of conversation to her mother.”Oh, yeah, she’s been real morbid ever since granny died.”

  10. @Camilla, ” I downplayed the actual occurrence of corpse-eating” made me laugh. The things we have to discuss as parents!We, too, take the “not until we’re very old and that won’t be for a long time” approach with our 3-year-old when he brings it up occasionally. As @Laura points out, though, it’s hard to be reassuring about something that genuinely makes me sad and afraid. Here’s where a little religious faith would probably help, but I have none at the moment.

  11. I totally remember being obsessed with death starting from that age throughout my childhood. As an adult, my theory had been that my parents had terrible fights: some in the open and some I’d overhear as they were getting ready for bed. I always had the feeling that my whole world was a heartbeat away from ending–that my parents would get divorced or die or that I would cease to exist. I had tension headaches almost daily and cried myself to sleep a lot. I never felt like I could tell my parents (or anybody else) what I was worrying about.I’m glad to know I’m not alone and that it’s probably a developmental thing.

  12. Ooops–forgive my incoherent post (I blame the allergy meds–death to ragweed!). I meant to say that the stress of my parents’ fights probably made my morbid thoughts worse and I suffered from death obsession periodically throughout my childhood.

  13. @Moxie, I think you have something with the correlation between the huge increase in fluency and the independence regression. I feel like this is part of the cause for my 2 y.o.’s current bout of separation anxiety / need to BF for hours at a time.Regarding fears of parents’ death, what do you do/say if it’s pretty likely that one of you will probably die before they are old? We are certainly hoping that we both make it to old age in our case, but the reality is, it’s not as likely for DH. We do a pretty good job of living in the moment without dwelling too much on the what ifs (like @Rudyinparis, I really can’t let myself get caught up in the what ifs…it can spiral out of control badly and does not help the situation. I just let myself entertain those thoughts enough to put plans in place – will, etc., but that’s it).
    But if/when DS expresses these fears, I’m pretty sure I won’t feel right saying ‘Don’t worry…Papa and I will live until we are very,very old.’ It just feels like an outright lie (and yet I can see the flip side arguing that we don’t know that we won’t live until old age so it’s not actually a lie).
    I’ve gotten my own head around the situation by getting (more) comfortable with the question mark regarding DH’s life expectancy. He might live a long time. He might not. We live like he will be around a long, long time, but plan like he won’t be. This just feels like way too much to dump on a kid. Oh man. Having all of this adult baggage makes it difficult to process stuff like this.
    @Stephanie, awesome list! I would imagine that death, war and illness tops the list for adults too (maybe with money thrown in).

  14. I’m in the same boat as @Catherine in the first post= Elderly parents (my folks are the same age as my husband’s grandparents!)So, I was keenly aware of the fact that they might go. I stumbled upon their will once and found out one of my older brothers would have been my guardian if something happened- which was a bit comforting I think.
    Also, because of their age, it seemed like I attended a lot of funerals- good fuel for the fire.

  15. My four-year-old has just started sucking his thumb or fingers in a distracted sort of way (not to get to sleep, I think). He was never a thumb sucker before, so this is new. I asked him if he was worrying about anything and he said “I’m worried that you will die before I’m grown up or a teenager.” This isn’t a new worry for him, but it hasn’t surfaced for six months or so. I’m not sure it’s really what the oral fixation is about, but I do think it’s something that concerns him from time to time.I told him that I promised to do my best not to die, by staying healthy and staying safe and driving carefully and all the things I do have control over. And I tried to get across to him how unlikely it is that something terrible would happen like an accident or illness that would cause me to die.
    Unfortunately, the father of a boy in his class did die earlier this year, so it’s definitely linked to that.

  16. What @lisak said about this being the cognitive phase when kids finally understand the permanence of death: “Reaching back to a child development class I took a looooong time ago, I think 9-ish is the age when death is understood and kids realize it is permanent. Not sure this helps, but makes some sense.” Totally!@Camilla – So funny!!!!
    Like @the milliner said, even adults grapple with the fear of death. It is classic psych – one of the fears that we can’t make go away. We can only try to manage it in the healthiest, most realistic way we can I suppose.

  17. I remember being worried about this same thing as a child. I’m the oldest of three girls and am the worrier of the family. My parents sat us down to talk about it one night. We talked about options of who would be our guardians and we got to make a logical decision. I think it helped that we were part of the planning process. Obviously, my parents had done most of the work beforehand and helped make the discussion logical instead of who might be more fun to live with. They also never shielded us from death. It was approached as a natural part of the life cycle. Sometimes, yes, it sucks and it’s ok to be sad, but it happens to everyone eventually. I clearly recall attending funerals with my parents as a child.

  18. My own personal fear at that age was fire (not saying it controlled me or anything, but you know, I married a firefighter…) and having parents who took it seriously (smoke detectors, check; underbed-fire-potential-hunt, check) certainly helped. Probably helped mostly with learning to live with fear.And that’s the trick, right? We can’t promise hard things won’t happen (parents dying, fires, getting hurt feelings) – we can just help kids learn to live with the fear of those hard things. Which of course we can only do if we know how to live with our own fears. Having a plan, knowing what’s True (we will be okay, no matter what is our own faith, but perhaps you have your own), telling others, writing it down…
    I’m not sure what to say about me or my husband dying, but daddy has a scary job and it’s starting to come up for the 3yo and we’ll talk about how daddy stays safe and how his friends all work together. But mostly we’ll talk about how much it helps to say outloud when we’re afraid, and to ask questions, and to pray, and to breathe. If she marries a counsellor, we’ll know I probably got it wrong.

  19. Our son is only 3.5, but a preschool classmate lost her father to a sudden, shocking heart attack a few months ago (he was only in his 40’s, thin, fit, etc.). The daughter was only five and didn’t seem really able to process it at the time, but I think the point the teachers and parents in our preschool community emphasized was being honest within age appropriate limits. The kids had lots of questions and everyone did their best to answer them as honestly as possible without being too morbid or dwelling on it. My son’s best friend said to his father one morning soon after it happened, “You know, Papa, someday you’ll get old and die, and then the kids at preschool will take care of me.” I think acknowledging the kid’s curiosity and worries helped the whole thing be less scary. Still, I’m sure an older child’s capacity to understand the permanence of death makes it much scarier than it was for our son and his friends.As other posters have touched on, I think this is so hard to talk about because most adults are afraid of death, too. On the other hand, our kids take their cues from us…so the more uncomfortable we are talking about death, the more we don’t want to acknowledge their fears and questions, the more scary it will seem for the kids, YKWIM?
    This whole thread has got me thinking about writing a letter to my son with the things I want him to know and understand if something should happen to me (a letter for him to read when he’s older). It might make me feel like I’d covered my bases a bit more, beyond the will and the life insurance, you know? The process of writing a letter (and maybe updating annually?) would probably make me think hard about my priorities in the here and now as well.

  20. Coming at it from another direction: I lost my mom when I was 9 years old. She was actually sick (cancer) the first time when I was in kindergarten, but I didn’t internalize the fear of losing her until probably 2nd grade. But I remember very distinctly after she died being terrified that my dad was going to die too – and what would happen to me? Who would I go live with? I know my dad had it all worked out and written down in his will, but I so wish he would have realized how much I was struggling with these fears. Obviously in retrospect he was struggling with losing my mom and I doubt he realized how worried I was – I’m surprised none of the social workers at the hospice pointed it out to him.@BlueBirdMama I can’t tell you how much I wish my mom had written me a letter. She was sick for a long time, but she was such a fighter that I don’t think she wanted to acknowledge things might not turn out well. I’ve had my dad there to tell me all along how proud she would be of me, but I wish I had it in her own words too.

  21. Although I had elderly parents too,I had four grandparents and assorted great-aunts and uncles who were in very fine fettle indeed. Honestly, despite the fact that most were 80+ when I was born none of them died.I was aware of death early on, as in the fear of personally dying or being killed, but not so much it happening to my parents.
    Until I was about eight and the issue became more potent. It didn’t help that my maternal grandfather pointed out that I would need to go into an orphanage if both my parents died when I asked him about it. He was the person I trusted the most so I asked him.
    My mother and grandmother were both rather paranoid and believed that I wanted them to die if I asked whether they would.
    When my father was diagnosed with lung cancer just after my ninth birthday, yes he smoked, like the proverbial chimney, the atmosphere was very, very strange.
    Most people saw it as a death warrant deep down, but on the surface denial wasn’t only a river in Egypt. It was operable, my father would be back at work in weeks etc. etc. My father was always in denial so he died as he lived.
    But everyone expected a long drawn out end. Then he died of a heart attack on the operating table. So what happened is that awful thing, where someone terminally ill dies suddenly. To the bereaved it’s sudden, to everyone else it’s not.
    I had appalling survivor guilt. I wanted desperately to have him back or join him but not to die. It gave me nightmares of his vengeful ghost in all states of decay. Which I couldn’t talk about as my mother’s fragile mental health kind of collapsed then.
    We did make it through, she and I, and it didn’t really go horribly wrong for some years, but despite her not being a model parent I was petrified of her dying for at least four years after my father’s death.
    We none of us know when of course, and all I think I can say to my DD now 2.5 as she grows up is that truly it is very, very unlikely for both your parents to die when you’re little.Even in Victorian times orphans in the Poorhouse had usually one widowed parent unable to care for the child.
    That if one of your parents die when you’re young it will still be all right, you will grieve but you will be all right.
    And that DH and I have chosen the best guardian we know and trust and that we’ve provided for her.
    And that we both hope to live for a very long time yet.
    For the record two of my grandparents survived until I was 18 and one until I was 21.

  22. My twenty-seven year old sister is still afraid that my parents are going to die. My mom (they are 60 now) has started telling her “well, you know, I am not going to guarantee anything anymore.” But she’s had this fear since she was a child.

  23. Our 4.5 y.o. daughter’s death-of-mommy-fears began with a IMHO too early viewing of Charlotte’s Web, about a year ago. SHe is also adopted with contact with Birth Father, but not Birth Mother. She has a real sense of loss of this mother and grief, although she has not seen her since she was 6 mos., and has lived with us since 5 days. Generally I tell her that I am going to live for one hundred more years, but I will be scanning these posts for better messages for her age group.

  24. @the milliner, your situation really changes the dynamic of the question, doesn’t it? That sounds really hard. All the best to you and DS and DH. (BTW, I never mentioned this, but every time I see a post of yours I think of that day you were decorating your Christmas tree, and how fun it was that you kept posting updates. That was you, or am I misremembering?)

  25. so glad to find this discussion – just had the death conversation with my 6 year old (#2 of 4)…one of those end of innocence moments.never occurred to me her state of mind might have been linked to start of school. but she is my most change-averse child.
    i inadvertently triggered the death conversation with my first child at age 5.5 after i got him a book about ancient egypt (mummies). oops.
    i wrote about the issue on my food/family blog. fyi for anyone interested…

  26. My almost-4-year-old started talking about how “grandma & grandpa are old…but you and daddy aren’t old” and eventually we figured out that someone must have said “people get old and then they die” and she was busy figuring out who fell into the “old” category. We do go to visit my grandmother in the nursing home, so that may have something to do with it.

  27. Yes. Last year at age 7, DD had a substitute teacher during the regular teacher’s maternity leave. One week into the sub’s coverage, she was suddenly widowed when her husband had a motorcycle accident. The guidance counselor worked with the class who also had to adjust to another sub for a while until the original came back (because she needed work more than ever).DD had recently been to a pair of funerals for much older people, and I think this event at school with somebody youngish dying made her think. It led to a lot of questions that basically boiled down to, “but who will take care of me?”. So we talked about those things, and how even if one parent died there would still be the other one for a long time, and which family member we knew she would go to live with if both of us died, etc. Then we talked about how this isn’t something that is common AT ALL, but that all parents make a plan.
    It seemed to work. I don’t know if there was a normal separation anxiety of the age at work here, but the sequence of events with the three deaths in a year really did seem to bring it up. Maybe it’s just because it’s the age where they can really make the connections about death. I think it’s quite abstract at 6 and below.

  28. Thanks, @Rudyinparis.Oh, yep, changed dynamics for sure. For now I’m a bit in denial about how we’ll handle it as DS is just becoming verbal now. But yeah, better get on this and have somewhat of a plan as I really don’t want this to sneak up on us and to handle it in a very wrong way.
    DS will likely have enough to deal with, without us adding to it with mismanagement of how we talk to him about death. I want to shield him from his Dad’s reality regarding death as long as I can (while still being as truthful as possible – in an age appropriate way – when his questions come up).
    Re: Christmas Tree. Ha! I actually don’t totally remember. Yay, sleep deprivation! …Though it’s starting to sound familiar and sounds like something I’d do – I do love decorating the Xmas tree!

  29. @chinese grandma, Thanks for posting the link to your blog. Very nicely handled if you ask me (a total outsider, obviously). I only hope I can sound as re-assuring as you do, when the time comes. I especially like how you describe people having ‘their time’. Am totally stealing that ;).

  30. My mom lost her parents at a fairly young age, and I feel like I grew up with the idea that she would not live very long (partly because she was convinced of that herself). Now she’s almost 70 and I feel very lucky that she’s still healthy and strong. But rather than developing a fear about losing her, she somehow managed to teach me that even in death, she would still be carried within me. She told me many stories about her own mother and even now I have this amazingly powerful sense that, as my mother, she is always a part of me. And I’m not one to embrace spirituality( much as I wish I could–I just don’t have it. Too cynical? Too high-strung?) but it’s a thrilling gift to feel that when she dies I won’t really be losing her, because she’s so much a part of me.
    All that said, my almost three year old thinks death is “going to time out for a really long time.” But she hasn’t made any connections about loss. I hope to be honest with her, but I’m glad she isn’t saddled with the reality of it yet. Hope it doesn’t come for awhile.

  31. I don’t have children of my own (yet) but I vividly remember going through an intense fear-of-death period when I was in the 1st grade, so right about the 7-9 age range you’re talking about here.For me, it manifested itself in fears of the ideas of “eternity” and “forever” that I would hear about in church and I didn’t have the emotional/logical maturity to grapple with such intense concepts as I was just beginning to understand them. As a result I spent most of first grade as an insomniac and, like someone above mentioned, I spent a lot of time pretending to be sick at school so I could nap in the nurse’s office.
    Unfortunately, I’m not sure that there’s a fix for this. What helped me most was just the passage of time. Over time I developed coping and self-soothing strategies (little made up mantras, etc.) to talk myself out of nighttime panic attacks about death.
    Frankly, I’m 27 years old and STILL have to repeat my mantras sometimes at night. So I guess the fears of death never went away at all, but I grew mature enough to push them out of my mind.
    Sorry I have no real helpful advice, but I thought I should throw in my data point!

  32. My parents divorced when I was about 5, and even though I saw my father very regularly we didn’t have a good relationship until well into my adulthood. When was 15 I made the very difficult decision to stop staying with him permanently. My younger sister continued for a few years but they had always had a different dynamic.I worried about my mother dying constantly. If I think about it now, I can still taste that fear. From about age 7 all the way through to about 14 I used to get up a few times a night peer into her room, just to check she was still alive. My biggest fear was that if she died, I would have nowhere to go, because I knew even as a small child that living with my father full time was a terrible option for me but because I was only a child, I might not have a choice. I used to tell her she couldn’t die while I still needed her.
    I think that if I had had a plan for if she died, and knew exactly what would happen to me, and where I would go, I probably wouldn’t have worried so much – especially if that plan had an option where I could have lived with someone who wasn’t my father if I chose to.
    When I turned 14 I figured that if it came down to it, I could probably manage on my own, and the anxiety abated a bit. I remember once I had finished high school, I gave her permission to die if she needed to. She understood.

  33. No time to read responses, but I had a conversation with my therapist about this ages ago and he told me that with young children, The Scariest Thing is something akin to imagining their own existence simply … stopping. And that what causes them to imagine this is situations that they simply can’t imagine.So yeah, don’t just say, “that won’t happen” because they’re old enough to understand that it could happen and when you can’t help them imagine what that happening would look like, they come up with this scary black hole type thing that is like nothingness. Fine to reassure that it’s unlikely, but also really good to say, “we have a plan for that unlikely event, and it’s that you would go to live with Crazy Aunt Mildred” or whatever.
    My 6-year-old is kind of fanciful about her own death and likes to describe where she’ll be buried and with whom. Can I begin to tell you how much I wish she would not do this? Because I Do Not Like To Think About This.

  34. @Alisha, thanks for bringing up the connection to our parents who died. My parents died when I was nearly 2 (mom), and 16 (dad). From age 5 on, we had my stepmother with us, however.I had thought up until yesterday that I need to start showing pictures of them and talking about them to my daughter, who is 4 and 5 months. But now I think I may hold off. She may want to know where they are, why she hasn’t met them, and extrapolate from that about her other grandparents dying, or her dad and I dying. Recently a friend’s cat died, and she’s spent a LOT of time talking about that, and asking the same questions over and over. I was glad that her first experience with death was one fairly removed like that.
    @Wilhelmina, goodness. Your history just blows my mind. You have clearly made the best of it, and your daughter is so lucky. Have you thought of writing a book?
    As for telling the kid what your plan is, I think DH and I need to formally line up what we are thinking for DD if the zombies come get us, so we can say with confidence that she would go live with the family we have chosen.

  35. I recently had a conversation about this with my 4.5 yo daughter. She had begun making comments about not wanting to grow up and getting very teary about it. I eventually discovered that it wasn’t that she didn’t want to grow up herself, it was that she didn’t want me to grow old as well and die.I had inadvertantly triggered this by mentioning to her that my mother had died when I was younger. That put the realisation into her head that mothers can die.
    So I drew a little timeline for her, starting at 0 with a picture of a baby, 1 a baby walking, 2 a baby talking, 3 starting preschool, 4 herself, then grouped 5-12 together for school, 13-19 for high school, then further groups of 20-30, 30-40, etc all the way to 100.
    We drew a circle around 4 for herself, and 2 for her sister. Then I asked her to guess where I was. She hesitated for a long time, afraid to find out the answer I think. Eventually she guessed somewhere around 80. I showed her that I was really around the 30 mark and that even her (living) grandmother wasn’t anywhere near 80. That knowledge seemed to relieve her fears and she hasn’t mentioned it since. I don’t want her to get the false impression that everyone lives till 100 so I did point out that not many people live to 100. But I didn’t see the need to burden her with the thought that not everyone lives to 40. I just left it vague enough that she’s not worried about it all the time.

  36. Well my 3.5 year old DD has recently become obsessed with road-kill and swears the kangeroo we saw dead on the side of the road was a daddy and not a mummy. Hubby feeling slightly peeved said it was most certainly a daughter kangeroo which DD laughed off but continued to insist on it being a daddy roo.3 year olds for ya!

  37. @Jan, Thank you for your post. Helps a lot with how to address what specifically their concerns will be while walking the thin line between reassuring and being realistic.@Megz, LOVE the time line thing and how it can make the concept tangible for young kids. Kind of reminds me of that reality show ‘How to Look Good Naked’ where they have the woman place herself in a line of women according to size, and she always imagines herself bigger than she is!
    And regarding the concept that not everyone will live to 100 – while it is in the minority, I just listened to a piece on the radio this am about how in the next 20 years, the centagenearian population will triple (here in Canada anyhow), so it’s probably more likely than you think. All along I’ve been worrying about dying early, when the opposite could be an issue too if it’s not planned for. Does make me feel a bit better about having had a kid in my late 30’s – he won’t be a senior himself, while taking care of me, if/when I get really old. Sorry to be OT. The idea of being 100 and active is totally fascinating.

  38. @the millner- “We live like he will be around a long, long time, but plan like he won’t be.” That is awesome advice for everyone, because none of us really knows what the future holds, right?We just finally got our wills and trust docs updated to reflect the birth of Petunia, who is 11 months old now. So we’re trying… but we have a ways to go, I think.
    My in-laws sent us an awesome book from New Zealand that just blew us away with how well it handled death. It is a favorite in our house, even though we’re not actually struggling with this right now. It is called Old Hu-Hu, for anyone who is reading in NZ or Oz. I’m not sure where else it is available, but it is unfortunately not available in the US. It is about an old bug (“Old Hu-Hu”- apparently, there are things called huhu grubs in NZ?) who dies, and how little Hu-Hu, who loved him best of all, tries to find him. He talks to other bugs who have the various answers you’d expect based on the major religions, but then he realizes that Old Hu-Hu is alive in him, and he goes and does something that Old Hu-Hu would have done. It is very sweet, and Pumpkin (who is almost 3.5) loves it.

  39. I remember being very preoccupied with the thought of my parents dying when I was in 2nd-4th grade; in fact, I wrote a story in 3rd grade about my parents dying that my teacher apparently found disturbing enough to pull me aside and talk to me about, which I don’t remember ever happening in any other grade.I was afraid of them dying; yes, but I was most afraid of the unknown of what would happen when/if they died. I had a Godmother and a Godfather, and had been told at some point that godparents are the people who will take care of you in case your parents die, but my godparents weren’t married to each other (one was my father’s cousin, the other was his brother-in-law) and I really didn’t want to live with my godmother. To make it more complicated, each of my brothers also had different godparents, which meant that in one scenario I might live with my middle brother whose godmother was my godfather’s wife, but in other scenarios I might not live with them at all.
    My parents never really talked with us about all this, and it definitely would have helped me if they had. I don’t think it’s reassuring to keep repeating to kids that you won’t die for a long, long time — by age 8, a kid knows that sometimes people die unexpectedly or by accident. So they know you don’t have the power to promise never to die. For me, it would have been a real big help to know what would happen to me if they did die.
    To be honest, there were many times that I indulged fantasies of what my life would be like if my parents died. I didn’t wish them dead, but I was fascinated and preoccupied with thoughts of what my life would be like without them and/or my brothers, which is what my 3rd grade teacher was so disturbed about. Apparently I used such vivid detail about my godfather’s swimming pool and big back yard and what a great cook my aunt (his wife) is, that my teacher thought I was looking forward to the possibility that I might lose my parents!
    UNSOLICITED PSA: My parents never had a will. Luckily, they didn’t die when I was a child, but it was still tough settling my dad’s estate just a few years ago. And when my brother died without a will last year, it added a lot of stress and complexity to a devastating tragedy. If you are a parent and don’t have a will, please take two hours this weekend and at least do a temporary will with the most basic information so your kids and their guardians can avoid being tied up in probate court.

  40. @Cloud, Even though it’s sound advice and common sense in a way, it’s amazing how hard it is to follow through sometimes. We were just talking the other day about how we don’t have a good emergency plan in place (i.e. if one of us has a serious medical complication and has to go to the hospital pronto). The fact that DH brought this up, rather than me, is a real kick to get me moving on firming this up (between the two of us, I’m much more the planner).But yeah, my DH lives in the moment better than anyone I know. I think this is the best thing I’ve learned from him (so far).
    I must admit our weak spot is planning for something unexpected to happen to me. We always figure it will be him, but in reality, we need to plan both ways. Hmmm…all of this discussion is a good motivator to put some more things in place.

  41. My 3yr2mo twins have been asking about death, to which I once confidently tried the line I stole from a moxite, “not until I’ve lived my whole life!” Didn’t go over well enough. But lately, “not until the veryveryvery end of my life” helps. And J has been talking anxiously about the house breaking, which I figured was because we talked about how old our house is and he drew the parallel that old = dies.An anthropologist friend of mine works in pediatric palliative care and stresses that being as open as possible is really the best thing. Make death a regular part of life, from the annual rhythm of the garden to talking about the cat who died when they were very tiny to the aging cat who will die eventually (I swear my perpetually ailing cat has lived about 2-3 years longer than I expected and keeps going, despite being 17 or 18 by now and requiring multiple meds 2x/day).
    I find it complicated, though I’m dealing with a younger age than OP. Especially how we discuss killing the salmon that gets smoked and eaten with bagels as par for the course. But their stomping on bugs isn’t cool. Oh, unless it’s a mosquito or a clothes moth or a bug that can harm us. Never mind all those sympathetic Beatrix Potter animals trying to run away from Mr McGregor, or other anthropomorphic critters in all the storybooks. But, yes, we kill animals we eat (humanely and quickly, I try to explain, hoping it’s more-or-less so). As a side note, because of the unwieldiness of my double stroller, our local butcher lets us use the back door, right through all the buckets and saws, etc. (I’ll let you know if they start building lego butcher blocks.)
    So, death. It’s not comfy. My boys do worry about it but are still figuring out what it means, have expressed they don’t want to die, have vague fears about us dying. And, to boot, DH and I aren’t sure any more about our current will-stated guardian, should we both die. Although that’s unlikely. Not until the veryveryvery end of our lives, anyway.

  42. When DS was about three he started trying to work some of this out:B: Mama, was I in the world before I was borned?
    Me: No, not until you were born
    B: Well… where was I then before I was borned?
    Me: I don’t really know. I had a lot of dreams about you though. B: Mama, before I was borned, was I a dream in your heart?
    Oh, my.
    Now, at 3.5:
    B: When you die, does that mean you won’t be in the world anymore?
    Me: Yes, that’s what it means.
    B: But where will you be then?
    Me: I’m not really sure. I won’t be in the world. But you will be able to think about me any time you want.
    B: That’s all right, mama. You will be a dream in my heart.

  43. OY. My Mom passed away when I was 7…a month before 2nd grade started. Spot on about the 7 year cycle. I would have to say at 14, 21 and 28 that yes, those were major turning points in my life. I am currently 38. I had issues at 35 again and sought therapy. I have always needed the help of a therapist, someone to talk to and figure out the mess of thoughts that would build.I am the oldest of 3 children and our father never remarried. We were not allowed to grieve….and we were not allowed to see a therapist. When I was in high school and then college I sought the help of school counselors in private without my father knowing. After I left home I continued to talk with therapists and finally in my late 20s I joined a group of daughters who had lost their mothers. It was in that group that I was finally able to make some sort of closure over years of being motherless and finally moving on.
    I am in my late 30s now and have 2 daughters. We do talk about death. They understand that they are missing a grandma. They understand that I don’t have much to say about her because I never really knew her. They understand that life is not forever…and that we need to make the most of our time here on earth. We have also grieved through the death of 2 children we knew in the neighborhood and that has tied in with my own experience with death. I think my older daughter understands that life isn’t forever. My younger daughter who is 5, is scared. She’s always been clingy and prefers “Mom” at any cost. She talks a lot about angels and heaven…and I think that is her way of understanding death at the moment. We just focus on living our days happily…

  44. Both my husband and I lost our fathers a kids (me at 6 and him at 17), so we have had to admit to our son, nearly 3, that yes nanna is mummy’s mummy but mummy’s daddy is dead (and same for DH). We added “but most daddies don’t die until their kids have grown up and have kids of their own”. He just nodded and said “yes” so obviously hasn’t realized any implications. We have 2 elderly cats and both DH and I still have a grandmother each, so one way or another I think death will be coming up sooner or later.Interestingly, despite having a parent die at around the age that particular anxiety starts, I don’t recall having any bigger issues re parental death as a school-aged kid than others here who have not lost a parent have reported. In infants/primary I worried about my mother dying, in highschool I kinda fantasied about what I would do if she did (part teenage “I hate you”, part preparation just in case). But as an adult it has kicked my butt. And keeps coming back every 5years or so with a new facet to mourn or worry about. But this is probably normal too, with the perspective of adulthood and again of parenthood.
    And why is it so any kids fairytales and movies have at least one parent of the child main character dying? The way it is handled doesn’t seem to be a “this is a fear kids have so let’s he’ll them work thru it” because it is never worked thru. It seems to me to be “we need to get the adults out of the way so the kid has free reign, and give some emotional strength to the story at the same time”. But I think the emotional strength it gives is a bit too strong for kids and only exacurbates their fears. But I could just be overly sensitive to that aspect of the story.

  45. Normal for a 7yo. The Ames/Gesell book for this age is called “Your Seven-Year-Old: Life in a Minor Key” for a reason. Esp. at 7.5-8.5, even sunny children experience more melancholy than at other ages.

  46. I have a totally death-obsessed 4 year old. She’s been that way since about 3.5, when our beloved dog died (of old age), but I do think it is in part a developmental thing as well.We took the time last year to get life insurance, write up a will, appointing guardians…if you haven’t done that yet, DO IT.
    If you need help getting up the gumption, just lie in bed tonight, staring up at the ceiling, imagining what on earth your children will do if no arrangements are made for them (sadly, most of the time, they go directly as wards of the state before anyone else is allowed to claim them).
    here’s a useful article: http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/CollegeAndFamily/RaiseKids/WhoWillTakeYourKidsIfYouDie.aspx

  47. We’re not there yet, but I am dreading it. I think it’s normal — Piaget said children develop an accurate understanding of what death really means — it’s permanence — around age 7. I get migraines that sometimes make me throw up or send me to bed, and I know the answer is not to hide these from Bear, but I do worry that he will worry.

  48. Haven’t read all posts so sorry if this is duplicative.I’m a big believer in providing coping tools and also ceremony.
    What about having a type of ceremony (and I use this terms very loosely, especially not to come off as a whack job) where you commit to one another’s heart for eternity. So that even when you do die…your child will know that through your actions you are always in each other’s hearts.
    You could write letters to each other. Put them in a box with mementos and/or videos or any number of things that you might want.
    And then that might allow a child to relax a little bit about it since they know all of that is in place. Just like a will would be.
    Crazy? Too scarey?
    My son is only 2.5 but when he’s scared I try to give him tools — imaginary or otherwise — to cope with and protect himself from what is scaring him.
    But perhaps at an older age it is much more literal.

  49. This hits close to home. My DD, age 6, is having very hard time with this right to now. To the point that she is waking at night, checking see if I’m alive… worrying about it, like, a lot.She’s had significant loss in her life already… adopted at age 1 from China, abandoned by her first mom. So, she fundamentally knows, that moms do leave. Ugh.
    Incidentally, or maybe not, I had similar fears at her age, or maybe a little older. I landed in weekly therapy b.c I was sure my mom was going to die whenever she left the house… therapy did not work, college worked, in that I didn’t really know her comings and goings.
    I literally have no answers… church, maybe?? More therapy. DD is a worrier… so much. So hard. Me too. Good match? Bad? Ack.

  50. The many people stated that wearing mbt footwear was tired, but I felt extremely secure, specially right after the dance I would wear mbt. I love Latin dance, workout three to four hours each time, then the feet tired to death, I also like popular brand jordan footwear as well , it know for its terrific excellent and unque style and design, air jordan is often a decent selection.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *