My Aunt Maggie was a kindergartner teach for 33 years. While there are many hysterical stories from her and about her, she taught me something so simple and tremendously effective.
When I was pregnant with my first child, Maggie explained that little kids have a hard time learning and accepting death. She made it through many situations by using the sentence “the person’s heart stopped.” Maggie explained that it gives the children a concrete answer that they can visualize and is usually sufficient.What is most important to me about this sentence is that it is truthful.
For the next 10-12 years this worked! We had some heart-wrenching losses in our family and friends but the sentence helped me and my children.
The toughest tragedy was when Saul, my husband’s first cousin at 46 years old, and Timor, his 17 year old son, died in plane crash. While I needed to take my family on a plane to get to Florida for the funeral, it seemed overwhelming and daunting to tell my 5 year old and 3 year old daughters how Saul and Timor died.
I was able to answer my children’s questions with “their hearts stopped”. It is important to me to answer their questions not just brush them away with things like “you are too young to know”. It gave them just enough information to process the tragedy. It allowed me to meet my daughters where they were and not overwhelm them with information that can be too much for children.
About 6 years later, my oldest finally asked “how did Shaul and Timor’s hearts stop on the same day”. At 11 years old she and I were able to have a more detailed conversation about the plane crash.
Thank you, Maggie Feldman!