Children · family · Motherhood · Parenting · Poem · Rhyme

How Do I Answer the Hardest Question of All?

Maybe it’s Halloween and the plethora of skeletons and zombies and other spooky goings on, but the conversation in our house has definitely taken a turn for the macabre recently. If you’re feeling a bit wobbly this post might not be for you today, but Miss Tot has just turned four, and with it seems to have developed a whole new thirst for knowledge.  The “Whys?” are coming thick and fast, and she has now started to pull out the really (really, really) big guns:

“What is dead?”

As a family we have been extremely lucky as we haven’t lost any of our nearest and dearest for many years, and certainly not since we have had the children (reaches to touch wood).  The nearest that Miss Tot has come to questioning anything to do with death has been coming across a dead tree (“broken tree”) and a squashed frog on the road (again – “broken”).  At the start of our recent holiday in Wales she came across a “broken” bird.  She questioned a little around what was wrong with it and when it would come back, but seemed happy to accept that it just wouldn’t and that was that.

“But why?”

We then went on to spend a particularly cloudy and grim afternoon driving to a beautiful secluded bay, which we found was overlooked by an ancient ruined church and historic graveyard.  The Tots were both wrapped up warm against the wind and were having fun chasing around and exploring the ruins while “Daddy Pig” and I took in the breathtaking view.


Image shows Miss Tot looking out to sea with her back to the camera.


After a while the Tots’ playing got a little more boisterous (standard), and they had started to play around the graves, which of course we didn’t feel was appropriate or respectful.  I went to grab Mstr Tot, whilst behind me I could hear the hubby calmly explaining to Miss Tot that this was a special place where people were laid to rest once they had died, and that we shouldn’t climb on the stones as they are very precious.  The floodgates were opened.

I will never forget that journey home.  The questions (understandably) came at us faster than we could have expected, and hardly gave us chance to glance at each other, let alone take time to talk about what we would say or how we would approach the subject.  This resulted in a number of U-Turns along the way.  I started to explain that dying was just like going to sleep at the end of your life, but then hubby quite rightly pointed out that this might leave her feeling afraid to sleep. We have always agreed that we will be honest with our children (rightly or wrongly), and so we didn’t want to make anything up that she might then question or lose confidence in trusting us with later on.  We explained that death is when a person’s body doesn’t work any more.  That once a person is dead they no longer move or breathe, they don’t need to eat or drink, they don’t talk and they can’t see or hear anything.  We also explained that some people chose to be buried under the ground to keep their bodies safe to rest.

“But when will they come back?”

We explained that people don’t come back once they have died.  That it happens to us all, but that for most of us it won’t happen until we are very old.  The questions continued all the way home in the car and ever since. There have been several times when both the hubby and I have had to blink back tears as she has said “But I will never die will I?” and the more recent “When I die, Mummy and Daddy will be waiting for me won’t you?”

We tried to help her visualize that she is right at the beginning of her life by counting to 100 with her, and when we got to 4 we pointed her out, then stopping at 30 (mumbles) as we pointed ourselves out, followed by grandparents and her great-grandmas. We have tried to answer as truthfully and gently as we can, without sugar-coating too much, but still just trying to put it into terms that she can come to understand.  We did a little reading up to help us field the continued questions over the coming weeks. The same questions are asked again and again as she tries to process what we have explained.  Her own take on it is still a little creative, but she seems to be accepting the general concept and is quite comfortable talking about it.  All. The. Time.

Our nearest and dearest have been pre-warned of the inevitable questions which seem to be popping up at the most random of times, including Miss Tot’s key worker at nursery.  The first week back after holidays went well, until the last day where I was met at the gate to collect her and her (brilliant) teacher said to me with a very straight face: “It happened.”  Apparently Miss Tot had selected a very quiet lunch time, while everyone was eating, to announce to her teacher across the table: “You know when people die? – They dig down and get in a hole!”  As I understand it her teacher blinked at her a few times and said “Yes. That’s exactly right.  Would you like some cucumber?” (See – told you – brilliant – I love her!)

Even this could not have prepared me for the big one.  The one that with hindsight was always going to happen, but there was just no preparing for.  You can picture the scene:  A lovely drive out in the country to visit “Great Grandma Chicken”.  Thus called as she lives by herself and despite being nearly 90, tends her own beautiful garden, breeds and walks Labradors, cooks like an angel, and keeps chickens.  Upon arrival the conversation went a little bit like this:

“Hi Grandma Chicken.  You know when people die, they dig down under the ground, and they don’t need to eat anything and they don’t come back up.  But it doesn’t happen until you get very very very very very old….  Like you.”

It was at this point that I wanted the ground to swallow me up.

All this aside we can tell that she is coming to accept it now, and doesn’t seem to be dwelling on it too much.  She seems to have very much taken it in her stride – unlike her mum who has been shaken to the core by the whole experience.  The sheer responsibility of how to handle these questions was overwhelming at first.  The way that we handle it could effect her profoundly, and it was entirely down to us to decide what to say.  We aren’t particularly religious people, but personally I like to think that a part of us lives on in some way – maybe just in the memories that we leave behind, maybe in other ways that we don’t yet understand. I’m hoping that we have said the right things – but time will tell.

In the meantime, the rhymer that I am felt the need to capture something that I could maybe share with both my tots one day.  Maybe I never will.  Maybe they will find it for themselves one day, maybe they will think it’s a load of waffle?  Whatever the case, it makes me feel better to know that it’s out there for them:

Image shows a sweeping view out to sea

A little poem for my little ones:

Our bodies are precious, amazing and strong.
But somewhere inside sometimes things can go wrong.

The doctors and nurses might all do their best.
But one day, our hearts will be ready to rest.

For most of us many long years will go past
Our bodies are clever and built well to last.

But each of us have our own time to move on,
And it feels very sad when a person is gone.

We miss them a lot, and we might shed a tear,
We miss all their cuddles and wish they were near.

But try not to worry and not to be scared,
As we keep with us all of the good times we’ve shared.

And though we can’t see them, they’ve not gone away,
They’re always still there – like a star in the day.

Their bodies have gone, but they’re still there above,
And they shine all their memories and cuddles and love.

We don’t have the hows and the whens and the whys.
But one thing I can promise you – love never dies.

We can all carry on in the heart and the mind
Of each special person we leave far behind.

So whenever we go and wherever we are,
Our love doesn’t fade, it shines bright like a star.

And wherever we are and whenever we go,
We’ll still be together, just so that you know.



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56 thoughts on “How Do I Answer the Hardest Question of All?

    1. Yeah sorry about that James. Kind of swooped in there with a random tear-jerker didn’t I? Thank you though 🙂 Luckily I think we’re ok with Halloween – she’s always been fascinated by spooky monsters and zombies at this time of year. Not Santa though. He’s too scary apparently? Meh. Thanks again! 🙂

  1. That poem is your best I think. Beautiful, moving and honest. Thank you so much for sharing it. We had similar when my Grampy died and we had to explain to our 3 year old. We didn’t want to say he’d gone to sleep or had been poorly because we worried, like you, that he would be scared to sleep or to see us get poorly or anything. Big hugs xx

    1. Thank you Becky – and big hugs back to you. I’m sorry that you lost your Grampy. I know we’ve been incredibly lucky to not have had more difficult circumstances around our conversation. (I’m terrified that I’m tempting fate just typing that!) I can only imagine how much harder it must be to explain when it relates directly to the loss of somebody so special. Thank you again. Dx

  2. Beautiful poem! Really Touching. You have approached the subject perfectly. I’ve had the tears at bedtime from the four year old and the “I don’t want you to die mummy” and it was hearbreaking. Reassured him I’m not going anywhere for a long time (again v much touching wood) xx
    Jen recently posted…New Poem at Last!My Profile

    1. It’s such a hard question to answer as you want to reassure them, but none of us can really promise anything. I remember worrying about it and asking my Dad as a child and his answer was: “I’m not going to die. I don’t want to.” And that was that. Maybe I should just go with his approach? Thank you for your lovely comment Jen xx

  3. That poem! Oh my days, you really do have such a talent there. This is the hardest topic of all to discuss with little ones isn’t it. The other day my almost 3 year old was sat in bed with me whilst I was watching Emmerdale and a cat had died. He said “cats dead” and has told family members about the cat being dead. Of course he doesn’t understand the concept but I know I have this to come and I often think to myself how will I approach the subject and what do I say. #bigpinklink
    Rach recently posted…You Can Call Me A QuitterMy Profile

    1. Thank you Rach. It’s just the one subject that I’ve tried to sweep under the carpet for as long as I could. She seemed satisfied with “it’s broken” up to a point but having to have “the conversation” was so hard. I guess we’re just so lucky to not have had to explain it under more harrowing circumstances. Good luck when the time comes lovely and thank you xx

  4. That’s a lovely poem. I think you did well to answer such a hard question. Poor Grandma Chicken though. Pinky started asking about this a little while ago but she seems to have forgotten all about it. I’m sure it will come up again soon.

  5. Oh Dawn, that poem is just brilliant-what an emotional, but perfect way to sum it all up. As well as making me cry a bit, it made me feel a bit better, because I had just been polishing my favourite photo of my nan this morning, and had a new wave of really missing her, but your lovely poem got things back into perspective for me! I’ll be taking some of the things you’ve said to your daughter, for when we get these questions from my eldest. I’m dreading him asking, he’s so sensitive, and worries about everything-germs, if his food is cooked properly, stuff I wouldn’t imagine a 3 year old to care about. And I know that finding out about death will be really disturbing for him. I’ll arm myself with this for when the time comes. xx
    This Mum’s Life recently posted…The #pinklinker Instagram Community Roundup, Week 8!My Profile

    1. I’m so sorry about your Nan lovely and I’m pleased that my words have maybe helped just a little bit. It’s lovely to think that they could actually have that effect and I’m touched to hear it so thank you. It’s crazy what little things they pick up on at such a young age isn’t it? Miss Tot has also had a bit of a germ fascination since I tried to explain more about why she needs to wash her hands. The thirst for knowledge is just incredible. Good luck for when that conversation happens – and thank you again xx

  6. Your poem could certainly be used by many parents to help to explain death. I don’t remember it coming up when my girls were young, but your little one is obviously wonderfully active in that brain of hers (just like her mum!) It sounds to me as if you are handling her questions brilliantly. Gorgeous photos by the way. Alison x #MarvMondays
    Alison (MadHouseMum) recently posted…Move OnMy Profile

    1. It certainly came up a lot sooner than I would have hoped. I think I’d have liked to have kept her in her little bubble for a good few more years yet but it wasn’t to be. In some ways I’m kind of relieved that she has an understanding of it now as she seems to have taken it on her stride so well. I guess only time will tell though. Thanks lovely xx

  7. Oh man I held it together until the poem and THEN… just casually bawling my eyes out. Beautiful words, Dawn. It’s so hard isn’t it and I am also not religious so I don’t want to imply that there is a heaven or anything, I would like him to make his own mind up about that. It sounds like you got it right in the end though, although hope Grandma Chicken wasn’t offended 😂 When I was little my grandad said something about getting old and apparently I went ‘no, you’re not getting old… you ARE old’ … whoops. #DreamTeam
    Ellen recently posted…Babies, biscuits and books: #6My Profile

    1. Whoops. If it makes you feel any better I’m sure that little biscuit will be getting his own back and dropping you right in it fairly soon. It seems to come naturally to them. Just another milestone! 🙈 Thank you lovely – and sorry for the tears. Big virtual hugs xx

  8. That poem. Wow. Hit a spot. As a child I grew up with death after loosing my mother very young, so I really want to ‘protect’ my little one from this as long as possible but at the same time I know it’s better for her to understand things. She is only 21 months so I think I have a little while before I have to tackle it. When I was little, I had a book given to me to explain things in a way I would understand at that age. Really helped #dreamteam

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss Lex. I can’t even begin to imagine how devastating it must have been for you to lose your mum, and I can absolutely see why you’d want to protect your little one from such a difficult concept for as long as you can. A book sounds like a brilliant idea – I’ll have to see if I can find something. At the minute it feels a bit like we’re freestyling with it which is a little daunting. Thank you for lovely your comment xx

  9. Hi Dawn, your rhyme was beautifully written and touched a chord. I think being selectively honest is the best we can do. You told your daughter just enough for her to process and understand without scaring the daylights out of her. Although Great Grandma Chicken may have been left a little shaken after your visit!
    Debbie recently posted…Living With AsthmaMy Profile

    1. I know – poor Grandma! As if being nick named after poultry wasn’t enough to contend with? Thank goodness she has a good sense of humour and seemed to take it well 🙈 Thank you for reassuring words Debbie and you lovely comment as always xx

  10. Whoa. You got me with that poem. This has been a big topic in our home too as a friend of the littles lost a grandpa. Questions are flying and in short, I’m saving this post to share the poem when we need it. Beautiful job Dawn. #bigPinkLink <3 <3 <3
    Lisa Pomerantz recently posted…UPDATE: The Rule of KindMy Profile

    1. Thank you Lisa. I’m sorry to hear about your little ones’ friend losing someone so special. It must be so much more difficult to have to explain in relation to the loss of someone. Thank you for your lovely comment and hugs to all. Hope it maybe helps a little if and when you need it xx

  11. Oh such a tricky topic. I’ve been actually thinking about this recently and wondering how we will handle to conversation with our little one. Unfortunately we have a few people in our family that are quite unwell at the moment which has led me to think about death and how to explain it to our eldest. It sounds like you both did a great job explaining it as simply and logically as you could. I also think its great that you shared this with your little ones teachers and key workers, something that I never thought of doing before. Thought provoking post, thanks for sharing it on #MarvMondays 🙂 Emily

    1. Thanks Emily. It really has helped to involve Miss Tot’s nursery as she has had so many questions, and I knew it would only be a matter of time before they spilled over to other people that are around her. It helped that they were prepared and had an idea what we had discussed so far. I’m sorry to hear that you have family members that are ill. My very best wishes to you all. Thank you for hosting #MarvMondays x

  12. I love your poem – my parents are both from overseas so I haven’t really come across a lot of death in our family as it was always too far to travel. But it does mean that the older you get, it becomes a bigger thing to make sense of. Your poem is moving, truthful and a brilliant way to explain it to little ones. Thanks for linking up to #dreamteam xx
    Bridie By The Sea recently posted…In The Kitchen :: Mushroom RisottoMy Profile

    1. There’s such a fine line as to when to explain it isn’t there? You don’t want to upset them when they’re so young, but then they might find it less of a shocking concept if they become familiar with it early on. Who knows? I guess they let us know when they’re ready to find out. Thank you for hosting and your lovely comments as always x

  13. It’s such a hard concept to grasp isn’t it? My two year old ‘broke’ a spider the other week and I was wondering about how I’d handle the D question when it comes up eventually. You seem to have done a pretty good job of it and I love your poem for your kids. One day they’ll cherish it.

  14. I wonder what I’ll do when I’m asked such tough questions. How does one get ready really? And what is the right answer?
    Well, I honestly am dreading this.
    Anyways, a beautiful poem. Something that flows like a stream. Loved that the most about this post 🙂

    1. Thanks Jessica. It really is so hard to explain and you can feel their anxiety about it. You just want to take it away and pretend it’s not true, but then they have to find out some time? It’s such a tricky one but time will tell. So far she’s taken it well. Thanks again x

  15. There is no doubt you have a way with words, the poem is very touching. The dying subject is a tough one with kids and as I sat here reading your post I was scratching my memory to recall how we tackled it. I think unfortunately for us we were dealt the unfortunate card of losing a grandparent which of course brought it to the fore. #mg

    1. I can only imagine how hard it must be to explain when it relates to the loss of someone special. We have been very lucky not to have been faced with this yet but it must be heartbreaking for them. Thank you for your lovely comment x

  16. We went through a phase were there was a lot of death talk, I guess I just tried to be as truthful with her as possible without scaring her. It is hard though. Beautiful poem. #mg

  17. What I can say, You’re really smart to use the some words here. I can feel your feeling thrrough that poem, slowly, softly, and real feeling and honest.
    Thanks Dawn

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