Communication is important in a parent-child relationship, starting with non-verbal skin-to-skin contact. Through the years, many topics will be discussed, some of which will be enjoyable, while others will take courage. And the conversation with your child after the death of your husband is not easy and one you are never fully prepared for. This courageous conversation will be the launching pad for many important talks about daddy over the years.
It is crucial that hope is included in every single conversation.
God is with you. He will never leave or forsake you and promises to be a Father to the fatherless.
What to include in the conversations you must have with your fatherless child:
- The first conversation (get help if needed) When your small child starts to process the news of the death of their daddy, they may ask questions. Here are some helpful answers to questions children ask with biblical answers:
- What happened? Share the news in an age-appropriate way so that you put into the suitcase of their heart only what they can handle. Give toddlers and small children the basic facts as you would feed an infant, baby food in baby bites. Tell them that the daddy died (use that word). Keep the description of the type of death simple, “Daddy was in an accident” or “Daddy was very sick.” It is okay to cry with them; however, save the ugly cry for another time.
- Where is Daddy?
- For the believer: If he trusted in Jesus Christ as his Savior, then you can confidently share the good news that Daddy is in heaven. The Bible tells us that Jesus is in Heaven preparing a place for us and promises to come back to take us there (John 14:2-3). God said that there are many mansions in heaven so there is a place for everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13).
- For the unbeliever: we do not know the conversation our loved one had with the Lord in the last hour or minute of their life. The thief on the cross is a good example of that. Right at the very end of his life on earth, he received the promise of eternal life with Jesus: “And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43, NASB). It is important; however, that in grief, it is not assumed that all daddies go to heaven. Therefore, we must not plant a seed in the hearts of our children that everyone will go to heaven when they die. The Gospel must be shared and faith in the blood of Jesus Christ is the only way to spend eternal life with Him in heaven (John 3:16).
- Can I go see Daddy in heaven? In your heart, you wish along with your child, that you could see Daddy, your husband, just one more time! It may prompt even more questions like what is Daddy doing in heaven and can Daddy see us? The simple answer for the desire to go see Daddy in heaven is not today and direct them to the Bible where we are told that there is a time for everything, including a time to give birth and a time to die (Ecclesiastes 3:2). He creates each one of us for a specific purpose – a special job He has for us on this earth. It is important that we commit our lives to doing the work that God has created us to do, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB). Even Jesus came for a purpose, to die for our sins, and on the cross, He declared, “It is finished! And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (John 19:30). For older children, this is a good time to share the good news of John 11:25, “Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (NIV).
- Am I going to die? We are also told that God writes the story of our lives in a book before time began, “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:16). God knows how many days we will live, “You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer” (Job 14:5, NLT). We do not need to fear death. We can trust that God has a perfect plan for our lives including how long we will live.
- Will Mommy die? This question uncovers the underlying fear that they will be an orphan and must be answered truthfully and with great sensitivity. Since we do not know the day of our death, we cannot confidently tell our children that we will not die. However, we can comfort them with the truth that God knows what is best for each one of us. Direct the focus of your little ones to the character of God. He is good, kind, merciful, gracious, and loves us more than we can imagine. Talk with your child about faith and trusting God, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You” (Psalm 56:3). No one knows what tomorrow holds but we do know that God holds our future and He cares for us.
- “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself” (Matthew 6:34).
- “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).
- What is a Daddy? My youngest son was a baby when his daddy died, all he knew was a single-parent home. One evening my children were talking at the dinner table about “Daddy,” and we were shocked when he asked an innocent question, “What is a Daddy?” At the age of two, he did not know. Sadly, this led to an important conversation giving him the definition of an earthly daddy.
- Who is Daddy? The story of dad. For small children, you will want to preserve as many stories as you can about their dad. In fact, you might want to create a “Daddy book.” Not only will the time spent putting this together be therapeutic for you, but also it will be a treasure for your children. If there are difficult details related to his death, write those down while they are fresh in your mind and save them to share with your children, when they are older. For my family, I waited until my children were eighteen, and soon to leave my nest, before sharing how the enemy schemed to “kill, steal, and destroy” my husband through suicide. At that time, they had the maturity to hear more of the story. Forgiveness and a warning against bitterness should be included in this conversation.
- Daily Conversations: It is healthy to talk about your children’s daddy. And, your older children need the freedom to share their memories, over and over again. Many moms fear that “keeping daddy alive” in this way will keep the child from accepting the reality of his death. However, their daddy is an important part of their life. Just as it is comforting for others to talk about the one you loved, it is the same for our children.
- Milestone conversations. There will be times, in the life of your child, that has the potential to bring about new grief or will trigger grief that has not been dealt with. For example, little girls dream of their wedding day when their daddy will walk them down the aisle. Or, little boys anticipate the affirmation that only a dad can give when they buy their first car or get their first job. Birthdays, graduations, their wedding day, and when they become a parent will be tender. Anticipating these milestones with your child, discussing their fears, and showing compassion are comforting even to those children who may want to ignore or bury the pain. Often your child may be unaware of the potential for these grief attacks and a conversation in advance may soften the blow.
God has given each one of us the gift of life. The most important conversation that we must have with our children is not about the day of our death, but whether we have made the choice to trust in Jesus as our Savior so that we will spend eternal life with Him.