Chapter 4: When death is sudden or unexpected

Telling the children

The expert says
Camara Van Breemen, nurse practitioner, talks about supporting kids when a death is sudden.(3:22)Video transcript

When neighbours asked Samir about his baby sister's death, he told them he'd rather not talk about it. I'm glad we'd rehearsed this in advance. 

As with other kinds of death, it’s important to be honest about how this death happened. Use the terms that explain a sudden medical event such as SIDS or heart attack. When the death is a homicide, use the word murder. Help your children understand what’s known about the death. For example:

Your baby sister died in her sleep. Doctors don’t understand why this happens with some babies. This is called SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome.

Your mom was driving home from work and her car hit another car. She died in the accident.

Your cousin fell out of the canoe on his camping trip and wasn’t wearing a life vest. He wasn’t able to swim to shore and drowned.

Your brother was in a fight at a party and someone shot him with a gun.

Providing details

Let children's questions guide you on how much information to provide. If they’re asking questions about the death, they’re usually ready for the answers even when these are difficult to hear.

You may be asked about the level of consciousness or physical suffering of the person who died. Keep in mind that graphic details aren’t helpful. However, for those children wanting to know more, hearing difficult information from a caring person is preferable to withholding details.