Adults seldom talk to children about death until a loved one dies—a grandparent, aunt, uncle, pet, parent, or even another child. A child with a terminal illness may be facing his or her own approaching death. These situations can be an extremely sad, confusing, and scary time for the child.
An empathetic teacher or leader can provide a safe environment where a child may feel free to grieve and to ask difficult questions.
Note: If you become aware of a death or serious illness in a child’s family, make sure to alert leadership for appropriate follow-up by the church.
Bible Stories About Death
The Bible gives many examples of how God’s people deal with death in the family. We can find a lot of answers for hard questions in God’s Word.
Here are a few examples that you can use should the situation arise.
Genesis 23:1-2: Death of Sarah
Abraham cried when his wife died. It’s okay for us to feel sad when someone we love dies.
Genesis 49:29—50:14: Death of Jacob
Joseph traveled a long way to bury his father. When someone in our family dies, he or she is usually buried in a grave. Visiting the grave is one way to remember the people we love. We can also go to the person’s funeral and remember good things about the person, put flowers on the person’s grave, or even plant a tree or plant to remind us of the person.
Genesis 50:15-21: Joseph’s Brothers Were Afraid
When Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers were afraid that Joseph would hate them. When someone dies, we may wonder what will happen to us. But God is with us and continues to take care of us. We don’t need to worry.
Luke 23:44-56: Death and Burial of Jesus
Jesus’ friends were sad that Jesus died. They showed their love by burying Jesus and preparing spices for His body.
Luke 24:1-14: Resurrection of Jesus
Jesus didn’t stay dead. On the third day after Jesus had died, God raised Him from the grave. Jesus promised that when His followers died, they would live in heaven with Him and God our Father. Although we’re sad when our friends die, we can be comforted because we know that people who are in God’s family and who accept His love and forgiveness will be in Heaven when they die.
John 11:28-38: Death of Lazarus
Mary complained to Jesus when her brother Lazarus died. Sometimes we feel angry with God when someone dies. We might blame God for taking the person from us. God still loves us and knows we’re just feeling sad. Jesus cried, too, when His friend Lazarus died.
Answering Questions About Death
Children have many questions about the mystery of death. While adults may not know all the answers, they can provide a listening ear and caring heart to children in grief. Leaders and parents can also share the truth in age-appropriate ways.
In discussing death, avoid euphemisms such as “the person is lost, sleeping, resting, or on a journey.” Children may interpret this literally and be afraid to fall asleep or go on a trip, or they may try to find the “lost” person. Be gentle and direct—use words like “death” and “dying.”
Telling a child that God has “taken” or “called the person home” may cause a child to be angry with God for taking the person away.
Here are some questions and answers you might be able to use in this situation.
Why Do People Die?
Our bodies wear out, like your toys wear out after you use them for a long time. After many years our bodies get tired and can’t keep working. Sometimes people get sick and the disease hurts their body until it can’t work anymore. But only our bodies die.
The part of us that thinks and feels and loves keeps going. That’s called our soul, and it goes to live with God in Heaven.
What Is Heaven Like?
We don’t know exactly what Heaven looks like, but God promised it is a wonderful place with no tears or pain or sickness. God, Jesus, the angels, and God’s followers live there. Only God knows for sure who loves Him and who will be with Him in Heaven.
If we believe that Jesus is God’s Son and ask God’s forgiveness for our sin, we become members of God’s family. God promises we will live with Him in Heaven.
Why Do Little Children Die?
Because of sin, our world is not a perfect world. Anyone can get sick and die, although most of the time people do not die until they are old. Only Heaven is perfect. There is no disease, sickness, or death in Heaven. But God is with us while we’re on Earth and helps us when we are sick.
Does It Hurt to Die?
Sometimes people die quickly and sometimes it looks like falling asleep. No matter what happens to us, however, we know God is with us and loves us and takes care of us.
I Thought Mean Things About Someone—Is that Why He Died?
No, people don’t die because of what others think or say. People die when their bodies get so sick or hurt that they don’t work anymore.
Will My Pet Be in Heaven?
The Bible doesn’t say if our pets will be with us in Heaven. However, the Bible does tell us that God loves animals. God cares for the animals, and He even knows when a little bird falls to the ground.
Sometimes a child needs closure for the death of a pet. The pet may have been euthanized and disposed of at a veterinary hospital without the child being present.
The class may say a prayer with the child: “Dear God, we thank You for (name of pet) and the joy it brought to (child). We remember the good times of playing with and caring for (pet). Be with (child) during this sad time and help us remember that You always care for us and the ones we love. Help us to always take care of Your creatures. Amen.”
The most important thing we can do in these types of situations is to be there for the child and their family, and to pray for them. Be understanding about what people are feeling and listen to their grief. Also, be sure to inform parents when these types of conversations arise, so they are aware and check on their children throughout the week.