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?