Death is universal. Death happens to all living things, from blades of grass to frogs, dogs, and people. The life of a fruit fly lasts just a day, but when it dies, this death is totally natural. The life of a tree, on the other hand, might last hundreds of years-and this death is natural, too. As hard and unfair as it may seem, everything that is alive right now will die someday. Whether it's unexpected or a long time coming, happening when someone or something is young or old, death is part of what it means to live. Some people find that when they remind themselves of this, death doesn't seem quite so scary.
Death is permanent. Sometimes adults try to spare the feelings of young people by telling them that someone who has died has just "gone away," or "gone to sleep." They mean well; after all, they're just trying to take away some of the sadness. But this type of explanation can confuse us and make us angry when we learn the truth, and the truth is this: Death is not temporary. It's forever.
Death is irreversible. Doctors can often heal people who are seriously ill or injured, but once someone has died, he or she is gone for good. If someone you love has passed away, it's normal to wish and hope that he or she will come back to life. But this can't happen, and it won't happen.
If you've lost someone close to you, these three basic facts might be very, very hard to accept, and it might take a long time for you to totally understand them. But the earlier you accept the truth, the sooner you can begin working through all of the difficult emotions that death brings.
So how can you get your brain to accept something that's so hard and so painful to believe? Here are some ideas:
Ask adults to be honest with you. Parents and other adults may want to sugar coat the truth about death because they don't want to hurt you any more than they have to. But even though this truth can be hard to deal with, it's even harder to handle half-truths or white lies. Let adults know that you deserve to be told exactly what happened, even though this information may make you sad, angry, or frightened.
Stay involved as much as you can. When someone dies, there's a period when families must do many special and important things, from having relatives over to planning funerals. You may not always be at the center of these activities, but it can help a lot if you stay connected to them instead of shutting yourself off. The more you're involved, the more you'll understand the reality of what has happened, and the sooner you might be able to start dealing with it. Don't let adults brush you aside. Let them know that you have a role to play in what's going on. If you're feeling overwhelmed, give yourself time alone-but then try to check back into things when you feel ready.
Try not to think "magically." Now that you're getting older, you've probably stopped believing in things you once thought were real, like monsters and magic. But when someone important to us dies, it can send us backwards a little, and it might seem comforting to think magical things like, "This person is going to come back to life," or "This person was on a secret mission and was just pretending to be dead." This type of thinking is tempting, but can just make things harder in the long run.
Understanding that death is universal, permanent, and can't be reversed is just the first step in dealing with the loss of someone you love. For some people, it happens quickly, while for others it may take a very long time.
Next: What Is Grief?