Conversing with children when someone is dying

It’s important for children to be part of our conversations when someone is dying.

One of our little family members is asking a lot about death.

The same question is often repeated, she wants concrete answers and asks
“Can I touch them?”

This is nothing to be worried about.

USA based hospital chaplain and award-winning writer Janice Willett addresses children and grief in her book Bye-Bye Butterfly.

Here, she shares some advice…

As a hospital chaplain, I see a lot of children who are experiencing grief and loss. We all experience loss and grief, and children are no exception. Children need to know that life is full of changes, and all things come and go.

All creatures big and small live and die, and dying and loss are a part of life.

Although some losses involve the death of a loved one or pet, we experience other losses which cause us to grieve.

These include things such as moving, changing schools, loss of friendships, a retiring favourite teacher, divorce or separation of parents, not making a team, and changes in ourselves.

Children are very intuitive.

Adults sometimes feel they are protecting children by not sharing that a loved one is very ill and may die or not be the same. Children cope and process much better when they are included in knowing.

When the conversation begins earlier, children can journey with the family in grieving and everyone can support each other and have meaningful conversations, and hopefully visit their loved-ones for closure and peace.

At the hospital or when I bring the message to our community families at bookstores or other gatherings, I sit with the young ones and allow them to interact during a story of hellos and goodbyes. I encourage them and the adults to be free in allowing their own emotions to flow while sharing a difficult moment with a child.

It is important to express that sometimes we cannot change or fix the situation or outcome.

I let them know that If a child asks a question we have no answer to, it’s ok to be honest and be comfortable with saying, “I wish I had an answer, but I don’t. I have no words to express how sad I feel for what you’re going through.”

To be present in the moment, listen, offer a shoulder to cry on or a sincere hug… to show up, to just “be” with another in silence is priceless. Sitting together and holding hands can many times be the best comfort, especially for our youngest ones.

Through these experiences I also remind everyone to cherish the people in their lives, what they have, and discover how to create an inner world of thankfulness. Then, when unfortunate loss occurs, they may be better equipped for saying their goodbyes to whatever they have lost and their hellos to the memories they treasure.

Bye Bye Butterfly: A Book about Grief, Loss and Letting Go

I found a way to address this in an age-appropriate and spiritually open-ended way through my picture book entitled
Bye Bye Butterfly: A book about Grief, Loss and Letting Go … a book of hellos and goodbyes for children.

To find out more, go to:

See Janice reading the book to children at Barnes & Noble earlier this month: 


Here are some other resources that could help you with these conversations:


Children’s Books:


Mem Fox’s book Sophie helps children too.

Buy here

Aya and the Butterfly

In Aya and the Butterfly, by Maysoon Salama, Granddad describes the life cycle of butterfly to Aya, who lost her father.

He tells her to remember and feel sad, but also learn to let go and keep going.

It is written in Arabic and Dr Salama lost her son Atta in the New Zealand mosque attack in 2019.

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