Explaining Death To A 4 Year Old

We had an unexpectedly traumatic day with our eldest daughter the other day. We were walking in town when we went past some railings by the road with some flowers attached to them. The conversation that followed went like this..

“Mummy, why are those flowers there?”

“They’re there to help remember someone….someone who died”

“They died? Oh…….Mummy…..does everybody die?”

ouch I thought, that’s quite a question! But I have to be honest..

“Yes darling they do…..in the end.”

“What even me? Will I die?”

at this point I wanted to cry

“Yes my love….in the end….but not for a very long time. You don’t have to worry about that. You are still very young. You haven’t even been to school yet. You have all your life to live yet. You're not even a big girl yet and then you will be a big girl for ages”

“But I don’t want to die mummy! What happens when you die?”

“We don’t really know my love. Some people believe it’s just like you go to sleep and stop working and don’t wake up. Other people believe you go to a lovely place called heaven”

“Mummy…..will Ruby (her little sister) die too?

Woah…this is getting intense

“Well….yes….in the very end…but not for very a long long time”

“Will Nana die?”

oh shit

“Well…..yes, but hopefully not for ages”

Daisy starts wailing

“I don’t want to die mummy! I don’t want to die!!”

She continues to scream this regularly all the way home. It was really horrible. I tried to calm her down, but really…how do you comfort them about this one true hard fact of life? I did my best….I eventually caved in my “I have to be honest” attitude due to the sheer upset this cold hard revelation had caused.

“The thing is Daisy…..maybe when you’re a big girl…..which is in many many years time…who knows what will have been invented by then. Things are being invented all the time. Who knows? Maybe they’ll invent something that will stop people dying. But really…..many people wouldn’t want that. Because then you’d just get older and older…..many people are happy with dying. Some people believe that you come back as something else”

oh lord, I’m going in deep here

Through her sobbing Daisy manages to ask “What do you mean as something else mummy??”

“I just mean you could come back as something else….I don’t know….perhaps as an animal….like…….an elephant” (it was the first animal I thought of, alright?!)

“An elephant mummy??” still wailing “But if I was an elephant….how would I…..fit in a car?!”

“You wouldn’t want to go in a car. You’d be an elephant”

now really crying


“OK, well I’m sure you won’t be….let’s just get home and watch C-beebies”


You see…..there were parts of this conversation that were funny. It made me laugh.  But honestly, it was also so traumatic. I’m really worried I handled it all totally wrong. But I’m not sure what else I could’ve said? I still stand by the fact you have to be honest. But death really is a hard topic. I mean, even as adults we don’t like to talk about it, do we? It’s a hard thing to think about. So I’m not surprised she was upset about it.

I think that probably the trick is to keep the conversation open. Let her talk about it. Let her express her fears and worries. I’ve heard that there’s books to read them which can help too. I’ve heard that Susan Varley’s “Badger’s Parting Gifts” is very good, so I’m going to try that.

Daisy seems to have calmed down about the subject since that day a couple of weeks ago. I suppose the news that we all die has had time to sink in. However, she asked me the most poignantly sad and beautiful question all at the same time the other evening. The kind of question that made me stop in my tracks and go cold and want to cry but also marvel at what a beautiful human being she was…

“Mummy…..when I die…..will you come with me?”

I just about managed to hold it together to get my answer across. “Yes darling…..of course I will”

This blog was written by Sally Bunkham, who is the founder of Mum's Back; luxury gifts for mums focussing on the yummy stuff denied in pregnancy, whilst raising money for PANDAS Foundation