When my husband died suddenly, I found myself wading through the uncharted waters of deep grief and trying to navigate it for my kids as well.
We spent a lot of time talking to help process our emotions and the cataclysmic change. We talked in the car, at the dinner table, in our morning Bible time, at bedtime.
Our world had completely upended and my kids were filled with questions. My youngest two would often ask these questions at the most inopportune times and often, asked them over and over. Grief is too much for a young child to carry, and asking questions helps them process grief bit by bit.
My teens didn’t ask questions, but I knew they had them. So we’d sit together and talk, me bringing up answers to questions I knew were swirling in their thoughts.
We can’t do the hard work of grief for our children, but we can shepherd them through with hugs and tears, giving stability in a world that’s changed, and listening when they open up.
Their questions need honesty and gentleness, to help them make sense of grief and death. Here are some of the hard questions children ask in grief.
Will you die too?
This is a question about security. It’s an expression of anxiety that needs an honest answer as well as assurance they won’t be left alone.
Here’s how I answered: Yes, sweetheart, Mommy will die one day. But that day is probably a long, long time away because I am healthy, I get checked out by the doctor regularly, I take care of myself and I wear my seatbelt in the car. We will all die one day and none of us knows when that will be. I’ve trusted Jesus as my Savior and when I take my last breath here on earth, I’ll be alive in heaven forever. If something ever happens to me, you would be sad but God will always take care of you.
Will I die young like Daddy did?
I knew this question would come, but I was surprised my 6-year-old blurted it out in the van when our spirits were high and we were singing to the radio. I turned off the radio and addressed it head-on to all seven kids in the car like this.
None of us knows how or when we’ll die. Only God knows. It says that every one of our days has been written in God’s book before we were ever born. (Psalm 139:16) So our death is never random and never a surprise to God. He’s already got that day planned. We can be responsible by eating well or wearing sunscreen, but our life is in God’s hand.
Will there be enough money?
The night after my husband died, my teen boys came to me with questions about our finances. Will we have to go to boarding school? Will we have to move? Their father’s sudden death had triggered real anxiety about our future.
While I was hoping to address finances after the funeral, I needed to assure my kids our family would be okay. The next night, I sat my older kids down for an honest talk.
I told them their Dad loved them so much, he’d chosen stability over fancy cars or a boat. He’d worked hard and hadn’t taken on debt. He’d made modest arrangements if something were to happen to him. Our life would look different, but I knew how to pinch pennies with the best of them and could work again if needed. God had promised to take care of our needs and while God did that through their Dad’s job for many years, God would now provide in other ways just as faithfully.
Why did he die?
This question is an opportunity to share how God created the world, how sin affects our world and the hope we have in Jesus.
We live in a broken world with pain and death and following God doesn’t mean we get a pass from that pain. In the beginning, God created a perfect world – one where Adam and Eve lived in a garden flourishing with all kinds of plants and food. There was no disease and no death and they got to be with God.
But Adam and Eve disobeyed God and that sin corrupted God’s perfect creation, bringing the consequence of death. Because of sin, we can no longer be with God and we will all die. We see the consequences of sin all over our world – like when someone gets drunk and causes a terrible car accident. Or when cells mutate and cause a cancerous tumor to grow. Or when a healthy heart becomes diseased and stops working. We live in a broken world and everyone will face death at some point.
But the good news is that death on earth can be life in heaven forever. See, Jesus left heaven to come to earth to live as a man, die for our sin in our place and then rise again to new life. And through faith in Jesus, God forgives our sin and gives us eternal life. Did your dad die young? Yes, if we measure it by life on earth. But when we measure it by eternity, all of our life is a vapor. That’s why we have to stay focused on eternity, not this world.
Why didn’t God answer my prayer?
This is a question many of us have after a loved one dies, especially if we were praying God would heal them. It’s an opportunity to talk about the difference between prayer and promise. God invites us to pray and He hears every single one of our prayers. God often works a miracle to heal and our prayers are part of that. God promises to be with us in suffering, to guide us, to provide for us, and to comfort us in grief but God never promises healing. We don’t know why God gives miracles in some cases and not in others, but we can always trust that God deals with us in perfect love and goodness.
What is heaven like?
Heaven is a place Jesus has prepared for us. We’ll spend eternity in heaven with God and Jesus if we’ve trusted Jesus as our Savior. Heaven is filled with joy and love and has no pain or disease, hate or fear. Nothing bad is in heaven. Heaven is a new perfect creation, filled with animals and trees, where it’s always light because God is there. No night and no bedtimes! We will do some of the things we do here on earth like eat, enjoy work, spend time with friends and worship God. The Bible tells us heaven will be incredibly beautiful: the streets are paved with gold, the walls are made of layers of jewels and the gates made of two huge pearls.
Can Mommy see me from heaven?
While the Bible doesn’t tell us specifically, several verses indicate that when we go to heaven, we’ll still know generally what’s happening on earth. Hebrews 12:1 tells us those in heaven are witnesses cheering us in our race and Luke 15:7,10 says when someone gives his life to Christ, the people in heaven know and rejoice in the presence of angels. But nothing you do here on earth could ever make your mom angry or sad. Your mom can only love and rejoice because she’s in the presence of God no matter what is happening on earth. She loves you and while she can’t talk to you, she’s waiting with Jesus to hug you and be with you when you go to heaven one day.
Was his death my fault?
It’s very common to feel guilty when someone we love dies. We think we could have done more, prayed harder or even behaved better. That guilt is from the enemy who wants to steal our peace. God is sovereign over everything, including our actions and our prayers. And God has sovereignly determined every person’s day of death before they were ever born. When we feel guilty, we need to exchange it for the truth of God’s sovereignty over all circumstances.
Will I forget my loved one?
You will not forget them and you will never stop loving them. You get to keep that love forever. You will miss the sound of their voice and being with them, but God has given us capacity for great memory. Ask God to help you remember what they said to you and the special times you had together. We have pictures to help us remember and you may have simple treasures they gave you that can help you remember. It won’t always hurt so much, but even as the pain lessens you will always remember them.
Will my pet be in heaven?
The Bible doesn’t answer this directly, but here’s what we know. God created animals as part of His perfect creation and had Adam to name them. (Gen 2:19) The Bible describes a time of great peace to come called the millennium, when all animals will get along. “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.” (Isaiah 11:6-7). Since animals are part of creation, and God will redeem all creation, it’s likely heaven will have animals we’ll enjoy. While we love our pets, we love God most and no matter what happens, we won’t miss anything because God will bring us complete joy.