Why did my mom have to die?

Telling a child that a parent or sibling has died is quite difficult for all of us. Giving a reason for this death is even harder. We often worry about the explanation and are challenged to find just the right words. We wonder if children are too young to talk to about this subject. Can they handle it?

Working with children and issues of death has deepened my certainty they can handle this sensitive conversation. What is difficult for our children is to feel excluded, left out, or lied to. Many boys and girls feel comforted with concise and truthful answers, especially at young ages. If explanations are too long with too much information, some children may just tune out of the conversation. When children get a little older they want to know more about the facts about what happened to their person and then look for peer support.

A good beginning for young children is to give a simple and straightforward response. Be open to inviting other questions that may follow. As they get older, they may revisit a loved ones death wanting more details and deeper understanding. As children grow up they continue to ponder the question of why their person had to die.

The following case study shares 6-year-old Tanyas experience after her mothers death. It traces Tanyas questions at ages 6, 9, and 11. Children re-grieve at different developmental stages, and Tanyas grief reactions change as she matures, displaying evolving age-appropriate thoughts and feelings.

Tanya (6): a case study

Tanya was 6 years old when her life changed forever. She was referred to me for grief therapy after her mother died. In our first session Tanya shared an important memory. She explained she had run home from school, opened the door to say hi to her mom - and realized her house was filled with people, talking and crying. Her dad was sitting in the corner, his head in his hands, rocking back and forth. What did you think was going on? I wondered. She shook her head and looked down. I didnt know.

Tanya continued to describe the scenario. Uncle Matt had appeared, put his arm around her and whispered, I have some bad news for you. Your mom has died. Then she began to cry in my office. You seem so sad, Tanya. Can you tell me why? I asked. Uncle Matt told me my mom died, she shared. I had heard the words but they didnt seem real. I couldnt even see through all of my tears. How could my mom have died? We just had break fast together that morning. I still cant believe she wont be back. She again burst into tears.

It is hard to believe that someone you love could die. Its so sad to imagine them not being here, I explained. Do you remember what was going through your mind? Tanya looked up at me with her big brown eyes and said, I do remember. The words kept racing over and over in my mind. My mom is dead. This isnt real. This isnt happening to me. Then a big question came to me that wouldnt leave. Why did my mom have to die?

Why did my mom die?

You have asked an important question and deserve the answer. Your mom died because she was walking across the street and a car ran into her. The car hit her so hard she was badly injured. It made her body stopped working.

If you think of any more questions let me know.

Is my mom coming back?

No, death is not reversible. It cant change back into life. Its not like magic. Mom is not coming back. Lots of children your age think death is reversible. They feel their person is coming back even though they have been to the funeral, the burial, and picture them in heaven.

I wrote my mom a letter and put it in the mailbox. Why doesnt she write back?

She cant write back. She is dead. Her body has stopped working. Sadly, death isnt reversible and Mom cant write back.

Todays my moms birthday. Why didnt anybody mention her name? That makes me angry.

I can understand why you are angry. It is such an important day and it seems like you are thinking about Mom a lot and dont have anyone to talk to about her. Some people are afraid to bring her up with you. They think they are making you sad by remembering. Others worry about the right words to use. They dont understand its your moms birthday and you are already thinking about her and want to share your thoughts.

My mom had a cold. I didnt make her stay home that day. Is it my fault she died?

Definitely not. You did not cause her death and you are in no way responsible. Girls and boys your age often have these kinds of guilty thoughts. They think if their person died, it must be their fault. That is not true and not what happened. A car hit your mom and that is the real reason she died.

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