Stories about: talking to children about death

Helping children process the Boston Marathon bombings

Pictures taken at the scene flickr/hahatango

As a life-long Bostonian I’m having a difficult time processing the range of emotions I’m feeling in the wake of yesterday’s tragedy.

Like most people I’m angry, frightened and saddened, all at once.


But more than anything I’m confused. Why would someone do this?

And if we as adults are having a hard time coming to terms with yesterday’s events, what can we do to comfort our children?

“These bombings will evoke many emotions in all of us, but it might be particularly hard for children to process, so they will look to the adults in their lives for answers,” says Roslyn Murov, MD, Director of Outpatient Psychiatry Services at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Those answers will be different for each child, but the most important thing any parent can do in a time like this is reassure their children that as a mother or father you will do everything in your power to keep them safe.”

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Sadness, like joy, is part of life

Claire McCarthy, MD

All over the world, parents are struggling with what to say about what is happening in Japan.

It seems like every day there’s another heartbreaking story. Or a scary one. Or both. It’s hard in general to talk to kids about bad events (for some great advice from psychologist Dr. Nadja Reilly, see Tripp Underwood’s post on Thrive from the day after the disaster), but this one just keeps evolving. It’s clear that the ramifications are forever.The lives that weren’t lost will never be the same.

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Talking with children about death

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD

Last week I wrote about how my children helped me care for a dying friend, and about the lessons I hoped they would learn from the experience.

Every family is different, and every family is touched differently by death, and so every family makes different choices. I chose to bring my children in very close to the caregiving and death itself, but for some families that doesn’t feel right. It may be impossible, such as when the dying person is very far away, or when the death is sudden.

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Lessons for living: What my family learned from a close friend’s death

Claire McCarthy, MD

This summer, I helped take care of a friend as he died of pancreatic cancer.

My five children did too.

Bringing children so up close and personal with death isn’t an easy decision, but this wasn’t just any friend. Father Jim Field was part of our family. We’d known him for twenty years, since he married my husband and me at St. Paul’s in Cambridge. We struck up a friendship almost immediately, and he became an integral part of our life as a family. He was part of all our sacraments—baptisms, funerals, First Communions, confirmation—and part of all our other important family moments, good and bad. He had a way of showing up exactly when we needed him. He was our parish priest, but that came later, and fortuitously.

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