“Mama! It’s dead! My hamster is dead!” My girlfriend, Marla, recounted the words of her nine-year-old earlier that morning.
I listened as Marla detailed how her daughter rubbed and stroked her newest furry pet, praying it would live. And how God answered that prayer when the hamster perked up and took a few laps on the wheel.
“She told me God saved her hamster, and she was going to tell all her friends at school. But then she asked me, ‘Mom why did God save Mr. Nibbets and not Gammy?’”
Two years earlier, Marla’s mother, passed away after a battle with cancer. “I wasn’t sure what to tell her,” Marla admitted.
[tweetherder]Death is inevitable. It’s a natural part of life, but how do we make children understand?[/tweetherder]
To make matters worse, my friend called later to tell me the hamster took a turn for the worse, and even after a tiny hamster IV at the vet, Mr. Nibbets went to be with Jesus.
Why would God save Mr. Nibbets and not the Grandma? And why did He save Mr. Nibbets only to take him later? Sometimes the questions our children ask are hard because honestly, we’d like the answers ourselves. And while, I can’t offer you a foolproof way to help your child understand death, I can offer some tips.
1. Allow them to grieve.
When I was in seventh grade I desperately wanted Guess button fly jeans. When I finally had the opportunity to try them on, I looked ridiculous. That style isn’t for everyone. In the same way button fly jeans look different on each of us, so does grief.
We all wear grief differently. Whether your child is grieving the loss of a pet or a parent, consider their personality. They may not react to loss the same way you do.
2. Offer support.
The best way to know what your child needs and when they need it is to be present. Spend more time than usual with your child as they go through the grieving process. Watch movies together. Read books aloud. For the introverted kids who retreat to the safety of their rooms to be alone, don’t assume they don’t want you there. Let them know you are close by when they want to talk. Give them space, but knock on the door every so often just to check on them.
3. Admit you don’t have all the answers.
Kids expect parents to know everything. And most of the time, we do have a general clue. But when your child wants to know why their father died so soon or why God saved the hamster and not Gammy, it’s okay to tell them you don’t know. Be honest, share with them Isaish 55:9: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” But assure them even though we don’t understand, we can always trust God.
4. Offer suggestions.
While we don’t know for sure the answer to why God could allow someone to die after we’ve prayed for their healing, we can offer suggestions. Sometimes kids just need something tangible they can wrap their minds around.
For example, when my grandfather died, I was in college. He was a preacher. At his funeral, many friends talked about how he affected their lives for Christ. His death drew me closer in my own walk with God.
When a close friend died last year, many people came to know Christ through the testimonies shared of his life. Though it’s hard for us to accept, I think God would call one of his children home early in a heartbeat if it meant saving the lives of others who might not otherwise come to know Him.
5. Praise God anyway.
Help your child to see how we can praise God even in the midst of a bad situation. Find things for which to be thankful. Thank God you still have each other. Thank God for the time you had with your loved one. Praise Him for the sunshine, for the roof over your head, for running water, for your washing machine… You get the idea. You’ll both grow stronger through the process.
Death is never easy. It’s hard to say good-bye. So what do you tell your daughter when she asks, “After God first saved the hamster, why did the hamster die anyway?”
Offer up some quick prayers for wisdom, and then tell her the truth. Gammy needed a pet.