Explaining Death to Children

Talking to children about death can be one of the most difficult conversations one can have. It is important to gather as much information as possible when explaining death to children because they will may have endless questions. Be honest about the death and about what you don’t know. Carefully choose age-appropriate words when giving explanations about death.

Commonly Used Words and Explanations:

Bury ~ placing the coffin or urn of the dead person in the ground
Cemetery ~ a place where people who die are buried
Coffin (Casket) ~ a box that contains the person who died
Grave ~ a hole in the ground at the cemetery where the coffin or urn is buried. The hole is then covered with dirt
Cremation ~ when the dead body is turned into ashes. Some people choose to be cremated. Cremation is used instead of keeping the body in a coffin *(see below)
Dead ~ the body is no longer living. The body stops working. The dead person doesn’t breathe, walk, eat or feel any pain
Embalm ~ removing body fluids from the dead person and adding a liquid chemical to keep the dead body together
Funeral (Memorial Service) ~ a ceremony to honor and remember the person who died. These can take place in many different places including the funeral home, mortuary, church, synagogue, a mosque or at a cemetery
Headstones (Gravestone, Monument or Plaques) ~ the headstone lists the person’s name, date of birth, date of death and sometimes a few words in loving memory. The headstone marks where the body of the person who died is kept
Hearse ~ a vehicle used for taking the casket or coffin to the funeral or cemetery
Mausoleum ~ a building in a cemetery where caskets or urns are placed
Morgue ~ a place where the person who died is kept until taken to the mortuary
Mortuary ~ a building where the person who died stays and is prepared for burial, or cremation
Murder ~ when someone is hurt so badly by someone else that they die
Suicide ~ when the person who died made the decision not to live anymore
Urn ~ a container that holds the ashes of the person who died. Explain what will be done with the ashes based on family traditions and beliefs
Viewing (Wake, Memorial Service) ~ A service or gathering to remember the person who died and view the body

**Cremation: First the body is placed in a cardboard or wood container. The container is put in a large oven, called a retort, for one to three hours and burned at a temperature of 1600 degrees. The burning reduces the body to small pieces of bone. These bones are then ground into ashes. The ashes weigh about three to seven pounds. Usually they are put in a small cardboard box or an urn. Sometimes ashes are called cremated remains or cremains.(What About Kids? The Dougy Center, 1999)