Death is something we don’t often like to think or talk about. I am scared of death, not of dying per se, but of the very thought of having to live without someone I love. I guess we all worry about our family and friends. It is strange though that death in books, movies or crime serials seems so distant, something that barely touches us. Reading about death on a daily basis in newspapers has made us largely immune to the enormity of loss of life. A road accident death is a matter of headline for us, to be read and put aside, while it is someone’s world coming to a standstill.

It is tough enough sharing the grief or talking about death with adults. It is even harder talking about death with children. We avoid venturing there in order to shield them from the harsh realities of life. There is nothing wrong with that. Yet, it is also true that even very young children are aware of the concept of death. They see dead insects, birds and animals. They read about it in their fairy tales or children’s stories. They see it on television and news. Hence, they are exposed to it no matter how much we wished otherwise. The permanence of it may elude them though. Sometimes, they may want to talk about it and at other times they may wish to avoid a conversation around the topic or it may depend upon how open their elders are to discuss it.

I remember my own first brush with death was when I saw my maternal grandmother dead. I was just about 6 years old, but that sight never left my mind. I remember being picked up from school along with my sister in a rush. We had an arduous road journey to make from Allahabad to Unnao, and I remember mom crying non-stop, not able to really explain anything. All everyone said was that she was gone. And I wondered that she was right there but must be feeling so cold, as she was laid on an ice slab. It was so confusing to the little child in me.

Just yesterday, I was reading about a teenager who had committed suicide. Apparently, she had an argument with her parents over a trivial issue that blew out of proportion and lead her in taking the ultimate step. Of course, when one is angry, these small things seem magnified, almost worthy of giving up one’s life for. After all most of the quarrels we have in our daily lives are over small issues gone awry. As a parent, it made me really sad. What could be a bigger misfortune for a parent than to lose one’s child? These are the times when I talk to my kids about death and its impact on us.

I actually sat with my elder son and had a chat with him. I asked him to promise me never to take this step, no matter how terrible the circumstances may seem. As parents, we discipline our children. There will be times when we may have bitter quarrels, but the larger picture is that we love each other. Nothing will ever change that. That is the thread we have to hold on to when we feel upset, really upset with each other. It felt good after the talk that the conversation happened.

The younger son seems much less affected by this. He talks of death very casually. His idea of death is losing life, but he does not look at the event with too much emotion. After the Peshawar massacre, he commented that all the parents must be very sad as they lost their children. His reaction was stoic and calm while mine was more emotional and sad.

I also share with them memories of their late maternal grandmother. I share with them the sadness that I felt and continue to feel at her loss. I share the emotions about losing someone you love so dearly. And, they understand. Then they ask me to share more memories, which I gladly do. As a matter of fact, both the kids love hearing about our childhoods. It seems fascinating to them, far-fetched perhaps due to the absence of so many things that they take for granted.

Death is not a pleasurable topic to discuss but one that must be addressed from time to time for it is important.

Do you find it easy to talk about death or share your experiences about a loved one’s loss?

66 Thoughts on “Do you speak about death?

  1. I have done this a couple of times. Once when their aththai (my husband’s elder sister) died. She was very close to them. My sons were studying in 8th and 10th. They were just standing near her feet and looking at her. Some people asked me why I brought my sons to see a dead body. What I did was right. She was not well before she died. So they were able to understand. They talk about her as if she is still there. Now they know what death is. It will never be a shock for them, I hope when their near and dear ones leave them.

    • I remember my elder son had his first questions when my fil passed away. My son was only 5 back then. I don’t remember him being traumatized but definitely very confused. And he had a lot of questions. I think we can prepare our children better if we address their confusions instead of refusing to address them.

  2. True, we try avoiding to talk about death since it makes us sad and relive the terrible loss we have suffered. But as you have pointed out, it is also important to talk to our children about death and dying. Who better than the parents to soften the harshness of death, make them look at it without fear but with understanding and empathy? Just as sex education, death needs to be talked about by the parents, or else the kids will pick up stuff from other sources that might make it hard for them to both comprehend and accept a loss that is permanent. I love the tone of this post, Rachna. And I am so glad that you had that talk with Sid. I am sure he is that much wiser for that discussion.

  3. I definitely find it anything but easy to talk about death!!! When my uncle died two years back, I was scared. I cried alone but I wasn’t ready to acknowledge it or even talk about death with anyone and the situation remains the same till date!

  4. Death is something that is inevitable, and on 1st jan I saw it from very veyr close quarters. It indeed is very important to talk and as everyone started to know and came visiting etc, I got to talk a lot over the days and then offcourse doing all the necessary arangements paper work etc etc , kept what was going on in the forefront.

    One of my uncles said a very good thing, he said that we celebrate birthdays because we think we are growing BUT is that True.. THE ELDEST or the OLDEST we are on the DAy we are born.. after that it starts to Reduce each day .. as we are going towards the inevitable..

    You are right we need to talk and glad you talked with the little one..

    • So sorry for your loss, Bikram. I am always at a loss of words to console someone who has lost a loved one. Words are meaningless then. My father always says that you can miss wishing someone in their happy times but don’t miss being with them when they suffer bereavement even if you don’t utter a word.

  5. As a little girl I was scared of losing anyone near to me. No one explained to me but slowly I understood that it was a part of life. Mostly from movies I guess 🙂
    I don’t think I have ever talked with anyone on death.

    • I realize that, Rajlakshmi. I remember my own brush with death was when I saw my maternal grandmother lying dead. I was just about 6 years old, but that sight never left my mind. My mom was in such bad shape that I couldn’t ask her. Everyone said she was gone. And I wondered that she was right there but must be feeling so cold as she was on that ice slab. It was so confusing to the little child in me.

  6. I probably never do but then there is no-one who is depending on me for companionship to whom I shall need to speak of it 🙂 Death has never been a source of fear – pain, always. You said it right – the main hurt caused by death is for those close to the one who died.

    • I remember when you had shared about your mother and your friend on your blog. Death really humbles us and pains us in a way nothing else does. I guess losing a loved one rankles always.

  7. Death is a topic I fear thinking about let alone talking about it… It’s scary to think that one day we might end up losing someone we love..I don’t want to think about it..Everytime such a thought comes to my mind I try to distance myself from it… I just don’t know but the fear of losing someone is something I can’t quite handle

    • Yes, it is scary. And, we hope we never face it, but it is under no one’s control. I have seen it at close quarters. It is very painful and something that one has to live with, unfortunately.

  8. Your post reminds me of that answer Yudhishtar gave to Yaksha in Mahabharata.
    My mother (and to some extent I also) had to talk about death to my nephew when he was just a little over 2 years old. He had just lost his father, and my sister was too much in a state of shock and grief to deal with her son’s queries. While for the first few weeks/months he didn’t understand what was going on, but slowly as he began to understand that his father is not coming back from wherever he was gone, his questions needed some sort of answers. And when I saw him again after a few months I was surprised to see how much he had actually accepted some of the truths about death. I can never forget the time he told me once – nani kehti hai ki jab log mar jaate hain toh bhagwan ke paas chale jaate hain, par woh yeh bhi kehti hai ki bhagwan hum sab ke andar hai, masi aap batao sach kya hai, papa kahan hain, bhagwan ke paas hain kya? (Granny says that when people die they go to be with god, but she also says that god is within all of us. Auntie, you tell me what is the truth, where is my father, is he with god?) Really, one of the toughest conversations I had with the kid. But now that he is 16 years old and has grown up into a thoughtful, emotionally mature and wise teenager (much too wise for his age :)) I somehow think that many such deep conversations he had with me, his mom, grandparents about life, living, death, emotions, relationships, etc added much depth to his growth journey.

    • You validate my thoughts on the issue, Beloo. Thank you so much for sharing the conversation with your nephew and his experience. How it breaks your heart to explain to a child who is at such a young age and has to face the cruel hand of fate.

  9. Yes, I do. I do talk about death openly. However, the husband is not comfortable me discussing this topic with the kids…I still do it though. My daughter has seen a funeral in India I believe, when she was three. So, she has a pretty fair idea about a person not being alive. And she asks too many questions about death and what happens to the person after death etc…etc..Recently, I made the kids watch a telugu movie of two small kids where they lose their parents and how they survive. A very good movie. Ammu keeps watching it like every single day just for the sake of the kids 🙂 Your post reminds me to talk to R about suicides..thank you for writing this. Like you said, even I am too scared to lose someone very dear to me. Grandma was the first one but I wasn’t there.

    • It is a common fear for all of us, Latha. Yes, kids ask so many questions, some which we have no answers to either. Yes, do talk to R. It helps to sometimes say these things to our kids. They understand. They are quite intelligent in that sense.

  10. It’s really sad what that girl did. I find discussing death very difficult but I do it now. Earlier I kept it to myself and there were days I couldn’t sleep or wept during night. One need to share these feelings or else you are burdened with it, worse, you are saddened by it.

    • Yes, you are right. Discussion also gives an outlet to vent, to release the pain. I remember I used to cry so easily after my mom’s death. I had become so fragile emotionally. The wounds of death of a closed one take long to heal but sharing does help and so do shoulders that support.

  11. We talk about death at home. My almost 8 son knows what is death mainly because the Bhagvad Gita tells about life death soul etc. I find Gita has all the knowledge that has to be given to the children, morals and otherwise.

  12. It happened almost naturally last year when we lost an aunt of mine. Gy was devastated but also surprisingly mature when we explained the concept of death to her. I think children are stronger than we give them credit. But, yes, news items like this one always lay a cold hand on my heart and I pray, sincerely, that as parents, we can always strive to do the right thing by our kids.

    • I agree. Children are stronger and intelligent. The reservation lies with the adults on what to broach and how to do it. Such news items make me really sad. I have an almost teen, and I can’t imagine how things can go so wrong. Thanks for reading and sharing.

  13. Well, Rachna, Death is my fav topic. The first death I remember in my life was of my mother when I was only 5. And then my grandfathers, uncles and many more. My father is an oncologist; so death news is a common thing for me. I did a lot of research on it and even had a near death experience. I have written 3 posts on death so far and many more yet to come. In my last post on my tumblr blog, “Why I stopped comments on my blog,” I shared about an incidence where I calmed the suicidal mind of a stranger by talking with him over phone for an hour. I really believe death is not an end but a beginning. 🙂

    • Ravish, I read your comment at least thrice. Your view is so different. It is amazing. That was really wonderful what you did for the stranger. We need more people to cool things down to avoid the unfortunate rise in the incidents of suicide.

  14. I agree with you Rachna that children are more aware than we give them credit for sometimes. And it’s interesting too with an inspired children’s story that I wrote for young children (though not yet published) had a sentence about death and the would-be publisher wanted me to delete that. Why? To shield/protect children though not said directly. And yet, it is all around them everywhere…why not face it and come to terms with it? <3

    • I completely agree, Elly. Very strange that the publisher behaved in this manner. I come across so much violence, misery and death in content meant for kids.

  15. I read that news too, Rachna. So scary. Too many teenagers taking their own lives and others’ as well! I feel so compassionate when I think of what must have driven them to that extreme step. I always make it a point to tell my son that no matter what, he can always talk to us and know we’ll understand.

    Sigh. I’ve had some nasty brushes with death – very close friends, and very dear family…the worst of all being my Grandma and then my Mom, which sometimes, I think I’ll never get over.

    Hugs! Parenting is a tough baby eh? But so enjoyable!

    • You and I are on the same page when it comes to communicating with our kids no matter how uncomfortable the topic. Yes, one doesn’t really get over the loss of the really dear ones. Hugs back. You aptly summed up parenting.

  16. A very sensitive topic but equally pertinent. I believe that no matter what age, it is best to trust our child’s intelligence and let them know gently, but honestly about the passing of any close relative. The same formula works best for any difficult topic, with age appropriate vocabulary of course. It is a part of their growth. Also, my heart goes out to all kids who lose their grandparents at a tender age, those are the years their memories of grandma grandpa take shape…

    • Absolutely! Age appropriate vocabulary and sensitivity is important. I completely agree that it is best that parents raise these issues rather than leave it for them to fend for themselves.

  17. I avoid talking about it. But one cannot run away from the inevitable and what you did with your son is the right thing to do. Amazing how you talk about any topic with such ease and compassion. The easy flow of your posts is so soothing.

    • Yes, we can’t run away from the inevitable especially when we see it splashed all over newspapers and media. Thank you so much, Alka. Your words of encouragement mean so much to me.

  18. I wrote a long comment and published and it seems missing now sigh!

    Have seen some deaths, some at really young ages ….

    We all came and we all need to go some day some way !

  19. Suicides are becoming epidemic. Good that you had a talk with Sid.
    As for me, I was never stopped from seeing a dead body even as a child. I grew up in a neighborhood where we had people from various castes and each ritual different. As we walked to the school it was inevitable that we came across some one’s death.
    Actually many parents also refrain from taking their children to the hospital. There is a fear of infection, I agree but if the person is a family member and if the person is critically ill then we must give every chance for the kids to understand and come in terms with it.
    Death is gory…but not always. My mother’s death was the first for my children. My son was too small to understand but my daughter did. She was able to say goodbye and make peace with my mom’s death as they were very close to each other.
    I also feel that sometimes the sudden exposure to death will badly shake your psyche. For my SIL my mom’s death was the first and she was badly shaken….scared. Kids can deal with emotions and we have to take them in trust and confidence.

    • Me too, Janu. I wasn’t stopped, but I remember no one wanting to answer my questions either. We did see so many funerals and it did not dawn upon me how bad the loss can be till I lost my nani, mostly because mom was inconsolable. Losing my own mother was a huge blow. Nothing and no one can take her place, but we do learn to live on and even be happy. Yes, I am happy that I had that chat with Sid. Often, we don’t let children see our vulnerabilities or our fears. Why? I can see that he understands, and he loves to share. That is how I always want things to be between us. I remember many people said that I shouldn’t have taken Sid to the hospital when my fil was very sick or to his funeral. I wanted him to see his dada for one last time even though he was quite young.

  20. I’m not comfortable talking about death.. but, I’ve had the conversation with both K and my mom and though it wasn’t easy – it was necessary.

  21. Truly Rachna.
    Speaking of death and remembering loved ones who are no more, is really sad. We miss them a lot…

  22. i think death is not a big deal coz our life when we are alive is a big deal.i lost my dad when i was in 8th grade and there was none at home except my mom and me to call a doctor.i took my bicycle and went fast to call my family doctor though i knew my dad died in sleep coz of cardiac arrest,i went to doc at 5 am to please my mom who was crying non-stop,i told her not to cry loud coz it would disturb sleep of my neighbours .that was my response to my dad’s death coz my dad taught us discipline to that extent.

    i din’t cry over my dad’s death coz he was honest government official and a responsible human who did help hundreds and hundreds of people whoever came at his door step.his life was full of stress and people always had expectations from him.people never allowed him to have breakfast and lunch peacefully,my house calling bell used to ring all the time.his life took the maximum load for being born as human and when he died,it was peaceful.he taught me things and has shown the world from my 4th grade days by taking me in his government vehicle and creating awareness what people are really made up of. i din’t cry and had smile on my face on that day too coz i felt he did enough and we should let him rest in peace. i was ready to take responsibilities though am youngest of his 3 kids coz he has taught me how to deal things.i felt embarrassing when i went back to school coz my teachers and classmates were showing sympathy over my dad’s death. i told them to behave normal and i don’t like sympathy or condolences.

    at the end of the day,death is not a big thing but the quality of life you have led will remain forever through generations. i don’t attend funerals coz they are not of any importance.

  23. Hi Rachna,
    This is my first visit to your blog, and I must say, I am impressed by your easy flowing style of writing. Yes, death is a scary thought. And, it does become difficult explaining about it to children. Last month, I lost my mother in law. It was tough telling about it to my 5 yr old nephew. When we told him that ‘aaji’ was now in God’s home, he said,”then let us all go there too!” Innocent minds with their innocent ideas. But, really, the mere thought of losing a dear one does give me sleepless nights. Wonder when we will come to accept death as a fact of life and embrace its concept as we do life.

    • Thank you so much for your warm words, Shilpa. Welcome to my space. I can imagine how difficult it must have been for your nephew. Their questions are so innocent. I guess slowly the reality seeps in as they grow older.

  24. Death is one topic where I feel, at least at times, lost as to how it should be explained particularly when talking to kids. I am very emotional about it just as you mentioned in how you felt about the Peshawar massacre. Sometimes it is necessary for them to understand it as well. It’s important kids understand about not giving up on life and dear ones just on some whim, anger or anxiety. That you had that talk with your son is so wonderful!

  25. I am reminded of that famous question as to what is the most surprising thing in this world;it being the fact that we see death all around us,yet we never connect it to our own life.
    Yes we often push such subjects under the carpet but it is good to explain them to children so that they are not bewildered.
    Very insightful post Rachna.

  26. Hello Rachna,

    Hope you are doing well. When I got an opportunity to nominate someone for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award, you were in my thoughts. This leaves me to wonder if you will accept my nomination ! In case you are thinking what is it, you can find out more about my nomination here:

  27. Very often, it is difficult to talk about death. I could talk about mine, but who would want to listen? About others’ I’m not sure I want to talk about it. Pretty awkward, really. My 5 year old has all kinds of doubts these days 🙂

    This was a pleasant read, really.
    Now that you’ve spoken to S about this, I’m sure it feels like you’ve gotten an unpleasant subject out of the way. (y)

  28. Definitely Rachna. Yesterday even I had a discussion with my son about the incident that happened. It is very important for us to educate our children too, so that they don’t take such steps in case of any disappointments. That a disappointment is never a disaster. Also required is an awareness, that death is a natural phenomenon just like birth and to equip them to take it in their stride when they have to face such circumstances.

  29. Oh no, I dont find it easy at all to talk about death. My 8 year old talks about it pretty casually, like your younger one does, probably because she doesn’t realize the depth in the phenomenon yet.
    I completely agree with you, it is a topic that needs to be addressed.

  30. It is a tricky topic. I like to discuss it in a distant, abstract way but not in a pesonal way. I don’t know if you have seen it happen – it can be very scary. I have seen – one moment my mother was looking at me, trying to say something, the next moment she was gone. (Though we had discussed this a lot and were anticipating, being in the actual moment is all together a different experience)That single moment will stay with me all my life.

    In my childhood, I have contemplated suicide on numerous ocassions for reasons you would not even imagine. But luckily I never followed through.

    • I was there when my mom passed away at her bedside. But she was in coma, so I didn’t perceive the actual moment. I am so glad that you did not go through with the suicidal thoughts. We have all been there, for a stray moment, in utter despair. But these days, it seems to have become much worse with our children. Our work as parents has become tougher, to constantly engage them in conversations. Thank you for sharing your experiences, Karthik. Death is just so painful.

  31. I recently spoke about death with relation to my grandmother. I was surprised and touched when my elder son expressed grief and said that he would miss meeting her next time we all visited Calcutta.
    Death is an important yet difficult topic to discuss. I’m so glad you are not shying away from discussing it with your kids.

    • I would expect nothing less from your elder son from what I know of him through your posts. I think sometimes we as parents want to shield them. But, they actually understand and empathize. It is a difficult topic to explain but shying away from it doesn’t make them any richer I guess. Thanks for reading and sharing.

  32. Gripping . Specially as you mentioned that you discussed it with your kids.. Ditto for me .. its definitely not pleasurable to talk but talk we must… specially after that rash jump of the teenager you mentioned , its a topic of utmost importance to be discussed with growing kids.

    • Oh, that was just so terrible. It is especially jolting because these kids are academically sound and mature in every other way. How are we failing to toughen our kids to face unhappy consequences, I wonder. One humiliation, one disagreement, and they take their lives. :/

  33. Also as latha mentioned it could be a different problem something he has no control over especially since you mention that he is averse to touch . He is a young child , I think discipline is too big a word for him. Nobody seems to be helping him , only making things worse .

    • What I meant by discipline is that the child does not follow a basic routine. He is hardly chided even when he throws or breaks things. I wouldn’t do that with my kids. Being a parent, I am quite tolerant towards children and their mischief. But there is something very different about this child. It is hard to explain. I think he needs helps.

Do not leave without commenting. I love a good conversation :).

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