How to Talk to Your Children About Death

how to talk to your children about death

by Heather Gilion

“Mom, I don’t want you to die!”

I heard this sweet little voice break the silence before the sun even had a chance for it’s coffee. “Zachy, come here sweety.” Not the words you expect to hear first thing in the morning. I cradled my four-year-old in my arms, “Mom, please don’t die.” My stomach immediately turned over and over as I held my breath. Stroking his hair with one hand and pulling him in tight with the other, I said, “I know death is scary. I want to stay with you as long as I possibly can.” I could feel him hold me tighter. I held him tighter. “I love that God has made me your mommy. I ask Him all the time to let me be your mommy all your days. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we can trust Him completely. I know it’s all hard to understand, but I want you to know, no matter what happens, God loves you and I love you very, very much.”

Noah, barely six at the time, overheard our conversation and chimed in, “Zach, don’t worry. If anything happens to mom and dad we will go to a nursing home.” I chuckled. Pulling Noah into the embrace, I had boys in each arm. “Well, I think you mean a foster home. Is that what you mean?” Both of my boys were familiar with the ministry of Boys and Girls Town since we’d visited there before and had been mentoring a boy that we met through the organization. “Oh yeah,” Noah said. “We would go to a foster home and have a new family.”

Zach lit up, “Oh, well, that sounds fun! Okay, I wonder who would be my new mommy and daddy?”

And just like that, the conversation went from dread of losing me to having new brothers and sisters and “wouldn’t that be fun!” Then something triggered a complete change in subject and they were on to Star Wars, (thank you, Lord!) and I sat there silent, listening to four and six-year-old brother banter. I began talking to God silently over this fear that had reared its ugly head that morning.

I get pretty mad about death, if I’m honest. I hate it. I want to punch it in the face. I want to go to bed and wake up and find that it’s not a thing anymore. There will be a day that it’s not a thing anymore. It’ll be a distant memory. It’ll be like, “Oh yeah, people used to die. Man, I can’t even fathom that.” I want it to feel like we’re talking about when people used to listen to music on their 8-tracks. “What are those? I think I’ve heard about them before, but I’m not sure.”

How do we talk to our kids about death and dying? All of us have been affected by death. I’ve definitely felt the pain of loss. I’ve buried my father, a husband, a brother-in-law, grandparents, and friends. So I’m not naïve to the fact that life can change in an instant! But when you have innocent eyes staring into your soul, begging you not to die, everything in you wants to say, “You don’t have to worry about that, buddy. Momma’s not going anywhere… EVER.” But that’s not the truth and it’s not healthy to set our children up for disappointment and a false hope. Only God knows the days and the hours I am to live on this earth. I’ve heard parents reassure their children simply to dodge their own fears on the subject, and to keep their children from any anxiety. But I believe I have a parental obligation and God-loving responsibility to prepare my children with the truth about death, even when I don’t like the truth. Although the conversations we have with our children surrounding death don’t make us jump for joy, we turn to the Word and anchor our hope in a God that conquered death once and for all!

When your child asks about death:

  1. Be truthful. Your children want to hear the truth. They want answers. Sometimes you won’t have all the answers, and you can be honest about that. But oh how confusing it is for them if you promise that everyone they cherish most will never die, and when someone does they aren’t equipped for this new reality. Death is hard even if you feel prepared, so setting your children up with the truth will be good for their hearts over the long haul. (Deut. 6:7-9)

  2. You don’t need to linger on the topic, but use those moments as teaching opportunities to point to the HOPE and LIFE we have in Christ here and now and the HOPE and LIFE we have in Christ after For a believer in Jesus, we have an amazing home that awaits us. Heaven is definitely a perk when it comes to the subject of death. Although Heaven is real, not everyone will go to Heaven. Heaven is only for those who have put their faith in Jesus. I wish every single person on the face of the planet would understand how awesome God truly is; that they would call Him LORD and follow hard after Him, for He is the only way to Heaven. Heaven is not for the “good” or the “well-liked.” It is for the sinners who have put their trust in God and been saved by grace through Jesus. So for those of us that call Jesus our Lord, we can cling to the hope that when we breathe our last on this side of eternity, our next will be in the presence of God. (John 14:6, Col. 1:3-4, Heb 11:1-2)

  3. God says “Don’t fear” 365 times in the Bible, one time for each and every day of the year, right? Even in death we don’t have to fear. Pointing our children and our own hearts to the truth that we can trust God no matter what is equipping them for what lies ahead. When those we love die before we were ready to say goodbye, we have a choice to anchor ourselves in the God who has conquered death and trust that He can use even death to bring about beautiful things. (Psalm 118:6, Deut. 31:6, Matt. 10:28)

 

To be honest, I hated to even write on this topic because in my messed up mind, I thought, “Oh great, Lord, if I write about this that means I’m going to die isn’t it? You are going to have me write this thing and put it out there for others to read and then I’m going to die in some freakish accident. And then this blog post will circulate like wild fire and my picture will be on the nightly news with that sappy, soft music playing as a smiling picture of me slowly pans across the screen.” Obviously, I’ve already played it out in my mind in weird, detailed fashion, but after I call myself back down from the crazy-brain ledge, I deeply breathe in God’s love for me and my children. The kind of crazy love that says, “Mom, I love them more than you. Can you trust Me?” The Bible says we are but a mist, here one day, gone the next, but we can trust God with our mist.

So what keeps this momma from finding herself in the fetal position, overwhelmed by “what ifs?”

Easter.

Jesus walked straight into death’s face. Was He scared? The Bible tells us He sweat drops of blood the night before. But it also says, “His face was set.” He knew what He had to do and He followed the voice of His Father right to His death. The Son of God allowed Himself to be murdered so our sin would be paid for. So death could never more be held over our heads. He died so that when He rose again on the third day, He could speak straight to death’s ugly face, “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55) He defeated it.

His Word is clear. We live in a broken world and we will endure hard, want-to-hide-under-the-covers-all-day kind of stuff, BUT God is who He says He is and He calls Himself Emmanuel, God with us. So even when you find yourself walking “through the valley of the shadow of death,” you need not fear, for your God is with you. (Psalm 23:4). I love how one father explained death to his child as they drove home from a funeral. A semi truck was passing by and the shadow of the truck covered their car. He explained that if the truck were to collide into them they would die. But when Jesus went to the cross He took the truck in our place. He took on the truck for us, and now when we breathe our last breath, we don’t experience the crushing truck, we experience the shadow of the truck. On Good Friday, He took on “our truck”—death—so we didn’t have to. Now we experience only the “shadow of death.”

Emmanuel. Jesus. That’s His name, don’t wear it out. Well, actually, NO! DO wear it out! Wear it right out. Cling to it. Cherish it. Call it out. Say it out loud. Beckon upon it. Never let the truth of His nearness leave your thoughts. He speaks into our fears of the unknown. You can trust Him even when you don’t have all the answers. And if you’ve never said it out loud, you can call on His name today.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21)

 

_______________________

To learn more about Heather and Holly’s ministry, you can watch their 3 minute video: go here

To check out their book, Dancing On My Ashes: go here

If you are interested in learning more about God: go here

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Measuring Moments

by Heather {Spring} Gilion

You are not a good mom unless you track your children’s height somewhere on a wall in your home. Okay, that’s not true. But I do love seeing the scribbled, hash marks along with corresponding dates that remind me: I survived two wild toddlers! Praise the good LORD! My boys love to stand at our measuring spot to see how much they’ve grown.

We giggle and reminisce as we take in all the pencil marks from days gone by. It happens so fast, doesn’t it? Except it was hard for them to understand early on, that I can’t measure them EVERYDAY! We need to let some time pass before we stand proudly to measure the growth. Yet as every parent knows, there are days that they wake up and you can’t help but wonder if they sprung a few inches overnight! “Sweetie, you look so much bigger today! You must’ve had a growth spurt in the night.” Now on the other hand, I’ve been on the receiving end of this “compliment.” Upon entering my four-year-old’s room: “Wow, Mom, you look bigger today! Good job on growing SO BIIIIIG!” Now that’s NOT what you are hoping to hear as you begin your day. “Thanks, honey,” I manage to say as I grab my running shoes and plan to eat carrots for the rest of my life!

 

I had one of these “measuring moments” a few months ago. But I wasn’t standing tall at a wall with my heals pressed against the wood trim praying for another inch. No, I was driving. I was driving on a road I’d traveled down many many times before.

measuring momentsWhen I was in college I knew the way home like the back of my hand. There were times on that road when I cruised well past the speed limit because I couldn’t wait to get home for a little breather and some detox from cafeteria dining. On the other hand, there were times when break time was over and I couldn’t pack my bags fast enough, gladly leaving home in the dust so I could see my friends and that cute guy I pass on my way to Economics Tuesdays and Thursdays. Back and forth. Forth and back. Behind the wheel I made the turns and journeyed my well-acquainted path. I couldn’t complain, my drive wasn’t too long, especially if I timed it right and planned my trek around Rick Dees Countdown. (Alanis and I were tight companions those days.) Cruising Hwy. 73 was undemanding and easy. I knew the turns. I knew the sites. It was my drive.

 

A few months ago, I found myself again driving on this familiar road. The curves and landmarks brought me back to those many trips I’d made on that highway. I remembered that girl that sat in the driver’s seat: Me of twenty years ago. I thought about her. I remember looking through her eyes at life. She was so young. So naïve. She loved Taco Bell, for crying out loud! She thought she knew everything. She wanted desperately to be strong, but she knew the truth—she was a coward. She fought to be less scared than she was. She wanted to not care what others thought of her. She wanted to be confident, but that fact was she was the shy girl. She thought she knew God. I mean, she knew Him, but she wasn’t working too hard to know Him more. She was satisfied in building the life she wanted. She thought she had ultimate say in her tomorrows. She had no idea what the years ahead would look like for her. The tears. The loss. The heartbreak. The awakening. The healing. She had no idea she would come to know the God of the Bible. The God who would not leave her side when she felt alone, lost, abandoned. She had no idea He would ask her to travel a new road. She had no idea He would ask her to be brave and when she said, “Yes,” He caused a courageous woman to emerge. She would be free of the fear of death. She would strive to walk humbly with her God, desiring to love Him with her whole heart. She would not be bound by what the world says about her. She would know freedom—a kind of freedom that she never thought possible. She would leave her “shy” tendencies to use her voice to speak to strangers… crowds of strangers… to brag on her God. And she would like it! She would leave the old girl behind and become something entirely new.

 

Gripping the wheel, tears began streaming down my face. I felt thankful to be in this “measuring moment.” God had taken me by the hand and led me to the wall. He wanted to show me how far I had come. He wanted to show me how “tall” He was making me. Not to praise me, for who can will themselves to grow? The applause must be directed to the One who “makes all things new!” Appreciation given to the One who wakes us from our slumber so we can really live. Adoration to a God who can take even a little girl like me and make something of worth. For I’m not the girl I once was. And that is my grace story.

 

It wasn’t by accident that I found myself on Hwy. 73 that day, for the day before I had been wrestling internally with myself. The day before I had cried for hours. I had drove aimlessly around town. I was empty. Tired. I had been in a season of working too much. Busyness became my norm and I had finally had enough. I was running on empty and desperate for time with my Daddy. I had let good things, gifts from Him, become too important. I knew I hadn’t managed His gifts well and I was confused where He wanted me to spend my energy. I came to Him depleted and tangled in the worries of this world. I was asking many questions: Have I been loving You well, Lord? Have I been loving others well—my husband, my children, my friends? I knew the answer to this. “There’s something wrong with me, Lord! I’m never gonna figure this out, am I?!?! I don’t want to disappoint You!” I was a bit of a mess that entire day leading up to… Hwy. 73.

 

In my internal chaos He came like the calm that only He is. He let the familiar road remind me of the girl that once sat behind these eyes. He let me feel her again. He let me remember how she thought and how she felt most days. He let me remember the me before. He said, “Sweetie, let Me show you something. Stand here. Place your heels against the wall and stand up straight. My how I’ve grown you!” He marked my growth and then had me turn around, and with His arm cradled around my shoulders, He pulled me in tight to Himself as He whispered, “You are growing. You are. And… I’m just getting started. I’m not done with you yet. These questions you are asking, they are good questions. And if you listen to My answers you are going to grow some more. Don’t become weary in the abiding or be content with how far you’ve come. There’s more. Can you trust Me?”

 

I know I can trust Him. He who began this good work in me will be relentless to complete that work for His glory. The work He is doing in YOU is happening! You may not see it, but maybe it’s time for you to be still before Him and enter your measuring moment. We are nothing without Him. And any good that is happening in us is truly because of the grace of God. Yet He brings us to these measuring moments to remind our hearts that it’s all worth it. He’s worth it. And to abide in Him will produce the fruit, will cause growth, will make our hearts rejoice all the more in the God that is our friend and companion through every road we may find ourselves on. Sometimes He just has to place us on the wall and show us He’s at work in us. He’s growing us up. I’ve got a lot of growing to do, but I trust He’s not done with me yet.

 

And just in God fashion, as we conversed about life, this song came next in my playlist that day: “No Longer Slaves”

 

Good thing I’ve had lots of practice crying and driving at the same time. Take a listen and be encouraged today.

 

 

“No Longer Slaves”

Verse 1

You unravel me, with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance, from my enemies
Till all my fears are gone

Chorus

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

Verse 2

From my Mothers womb
You have chosen me
Love has called my name
I’ve been born again, into your family
Your blood flows through my veins

Bridge

You split the sea, so I could walk right through it
All my fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me, so I could stand and sing
I am a child of God

_______________________

To learn more about Heather and Holly’s ministry, you can watch their 3 minute video: go here

To check out their book, Dancing On My Ashes: go here

If you are interested in learning more about God: go here

The Invitation to Climb

lessons on a mountain

by Heather Gilion

Summiting a mountain was never on my bucket list. It wasn’t even on my radar until I met my husband, Dallas. My Dallas, however, has a deep fondness for the mountains. Skiing, hiking, it doesn’t matter which, he just longs for the peak adventure. If we talk too much about the mountains he starts to grow a beard immediately. Seriously, I’ve seen his 5 o’clock shadow turn into a shrub just by saying Colorado, backpack, and view in the same sentence—he’s my mountain man.

One thing I’ve learned about a healthy marriage over the years is that even though you will both have different things that make you tick, you should always make an effort to at least embrace your differences and explore one another’s passions. He now knows about infinity scarfs and how to get 40% off at Hobby Lobby. I am so proud.

I, on the other hand, trekked up a mountain because of my love for him.

MY FIRST 14ER

We stood for a few minutes taking in the mountains. Pictures will never do them justice, no matter how many you take. And believe me, I took a lot of selfies and ussies.

Dallas pointed up to the trail, “Look you can see other hikers on the trail.” It took me a minute, but I could see what looked to be ants moving on the mountain. That’s when doubt and I were in agreement, “NO FLIPPIN’ WAY is that going to be me?!?! I’ll never be where they are! Just smile and nod.” I shot Mountain Man a fake smile and squeaked through my clinched teeth, “Wow. That seems so far away. How exciting!” That’s when I saw his beard grow a quarter of an inch.

With a few selfies and exchanges of, “we’re really doing it Harry,” we began our ascent. The truth is, I was already huffing and puffing. I like to blame that on the fact that I’m from Missouri, but it’s the truth. Acclimation is part of the game for non-Colorado folk.

Before I knew it, I was officially on the side of the mountain. The car was getting farther and farther away, and I was taking one step after another. That’s how it’s done, people.

On the mountain you have a lot of time to think—and talk to yourself.

(Here I am internal dialoging with myself…)
“This is pretty cool. It’s not so bad is it?”
“Well, not yet. But what if you have to go the bathroom up there?”
“AHHH! I know. I know. But remember, you drank that coffee early so you could get business done beforehand.”
“True. But what if…”
“Hold on a second. Wow! Look at that view!”
“Oh my gosh, I hope I don’t die!”

On this particular trek there were many rocks. Sometimes the entire path was a bunch of rocks, so many that you couldn’t discern the path. That’s when an experienced hiker comes in handy. Mountain Man could always see the path. He has special mountain eyes, of course. He taught me about cairns that stood as trail markers to help guide our way. I also learned that those going up the mountain have the right of way, so if you are meeting someone on the path the person going down should yield to those going up. Probably because we’re the ones breathing heavy and sounding like we are getting kicked in the gut. Okay, maybe that was just me. Mountain Man was just fine, inhaling the cool Colorado air while running his fingers through the ever increasing bush on his face.

Mountain Man: “Sweetie, are you drinking enough?”
Me: “Maybe.”
MM: “Let’s stop and get some water in you.”

It was in the pauses that I realized the mini steps I’d been making for over an hour had accumulated beneath me and I was actually going somewhere. I was higher. I was farther. I realized I was doing what I had set out to do and it felt good! Of course, it would feel better if I was done. Because it was already harder than I thought it might be, but taking a moment to look back at where I’d come from was just what I needed to turn around again and get back to it.

We were climbing a mountain that was linked with other mountains, and after nearly two hours we came upon the saddle (a gently-sloping low point between two peaks). This particular spot on our journey was the most incredible, beautiful spot we’d encountered up to that point. As we walked up to ridge, it was as if the horizon appeared out of nowhere. The wind was strong, but the clouds seemed reachable. I remember at the beginning seeing “ants” up here! NOW I was an ant to someone else!

PRESSING ON

My legs were a bit weary and my mind said, “Isn’t this view good enough? You could be satisfied with this height, couldn’t you?!?!” But gazing over at my Mountain Man as he was gathering his beard into a small ponytail, I knew I must keep going. And not just for his sake, but the higher I went, the more I wanted to continue. The glory of God’s creation was before me and I couldn’t unsee this—and I didn’t want to. There was pain in this journey, but the beauty of the journey was becoming a prize worth knowing personally.

We moved onward and upward and there were more rocks. The incline at times left me baby-stepping my way up the mountain. {Have you seen those Mt. Everest movies where they are walking like snails? Haha! Yep, totally me.} At this rate I wondered if we’d arrive before Mountain Man’s beard hit ground. But slowly and surely I put one step in front of the other. Mountain Man was my cheerleader. He never groaned at my speed or chastised my ability. I just heard, “I’m so proud of you, honey. You are doing great!” or “Your tush looks nice in those pants.” All were very motivating statements.

The last leg of the journey I kept thinking about when I was in labor. I recalled the intense pain, the moments I wondered if I would die from the agony of each contraction, the promise that before too long I would see the little face that would make all of this worth it. Because here I was, barely breathing, crawling my way up a giant rock, and all I could see was more rock in front of me. I began to wonder, will this really be worth it? Will you get to the top and think, “Hmmm… well, it’s kindof cool up here, I guess.” I just didn’t know if it was going to be worth it.

But then that’s when I heard my Mountain Man say golden words, “I think this may be it! This will be our last push and then we’re there, I think.” I made my way up only to see… we were at a FALSE SUMMIT! AHHHH! A false summit is a peak that appears to be the pinnacle of the mountain but upon reaching, it turns out the summit is actually higher. You can’t see the true summit because the false one is blocking your view. Talk about dashing this girl’s hopes in that moment! But the good news was, I could see the actual summit in the distance… and it wasn’t too far away! So with a few more *we’re-really-doing-it-Harry’s, we made our final accent! (*Obviously, we need a Dumb and Dumber intervention.)

ALMOST THERE

Mountain Man cheered for me. I was cheering for me. My labor was almost over. I was pushing and pushing. I could hear my doctor, “One more push, and you’re done! Come on, Heather, I know you have one more in you!”

And that’s when I stepped foot on the summit. The sky opened up to a 360 degree view. My eyes could not even take it all in. It was too beautiful for words—too glorious to capture in a sentence. It’s like trying to describe the hands of your newborn—and you realize the only thing that comes out is “Wow, look… You have to see his hands!” You can’t describe the beauty; all you can do is invite others into the splendor you are beholding. That’s when you know you are witnessing the fingerprints of God. His marvels cannot be explained with mere language, or captured in a song, or displayed through even the most beautiful of art. We try, and it’s okay to try, but we’ll always fall short. God’s glory leaves one speechless. All I can say is, “Wow! You’ll have to go and see for yourself! I don’t have the words to describe it, just an invitation to experience it for yourself.”

INVITED

I guess that’s how I feel about my journey with the Lord. It feels like climbing a mountain some days. It feels like the journey is unreasonably long and too dang steep. There’s too many rocks and the obstacles in my way leave me wondering, “Why does it have to be this hard?” Internally I wrestle with the risks, the suffering I’m enduring, the uncomfortability of the climb—and at times, I almost talk myself into retreating all together. But it’s in those moments that the Lord calls me to rest and reflect. He gives me a moment to catch my breath and turn around. There are times in my life that I’ve looked back and been bummed, feeling like surely I should be further along by now! And other times I’m surprised that I’ve even made it this far—recognizing the grace and sovereign hand of God that has brought me to this point. There are “saddle” moments when you think, “This is good enough. I could be satisfied enough with this view and head back.” But then you hear the encouragers, your spiritual cheerleaders, say, “But there’s more. You’ve come this far! Let’s keep going.” And so you trek on. You press onward and upward, wondering why you can’t be the one satisfied with the couch, but the truth is, you’re not. You’re not made for ease or settling.

And you put one foot in front of the other.
You persevere.
You obey His voice.
You trust Him.
You place your hope in His promises.
You ask Him for the strength.

And then something beautiful happens—you reach the mountain’s peak. And that’s when you see the journey was not in vain. You see the beauty is that much more spectacular than you dared to dream. You realize there was purpose and beauty even in the pain. You know you can’t unsee this and you would never want to. Being in relationship with the God of the universe changes you. So much so, you want to tell others, but sometimes the only thing that comes out is, “I wish I could describe how much He loves you, but I just can’t. I wish I could put into words how great the climb really is, but my words aren’t enough. But… you are invited… invited to know for yourself—to see Him for yourself. Climb the mountain—He’ll never leave your side and you won’t be disappointed.”

PERSPECTIVE

Sometimes we need to have a new perspective. Fourteen thousand feet high and I was reminded again how small I really am… I am but an ant. But God reminded me, He loves this ant.

So even though you can’t really capture the beauty in a moment, you still try. We took our selfies and breathed it all in. Mountain Man braided his beard, that was now down to his chest, as we discussed being higher than the clouds. And much to my surprise, as we began our descent, I had a 5 o’clock shadow of my own.

And believe it or not, I returned recently and climbed three 14ers in one day!

I hope you climb your mountain.

_______________________

To learn more about Heather and Holly’s ministry, you can watch their 3 minute video: go here

To check out their book, Dancing On My Ashes: go here

If you are interested in learning more about God: go here