5 Things Not to Say When Talking With a Child About Death

How does one go about choosing an outfit to wear to the funeral of someone they love knowing that going forward it will be thought of as, “The outfit I wore to the funeral.”?

While staring blankly into my closet full of more than enough clothes to wear, a little voice from behind me said, ”Mommy, what are you doing?”
“I’m trying to decide what to wear to the service for Uncle Buddy tomorrow.”
“Oh...” [long pause] “Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yes…right now, in this moment…I’m okay.” I replied.
“Alright. I’m going to play in the fort. Call me if you need me.” he said, skipping out of the room.

“Call him if I need him…” I said to myself smiling.
He’s 9 and I’m convinced he has a better grasp on everything than I do.

As I turn back to the plethora of clothing, the silence falls heavily.

I take some options from the hangers and fold them into my suitcase, careful to lay a few things out so that I can slip into them as quietly as possible after my 4:00 a.m. alarm alerts me to the beginning of this journey into grief.

Two days ago, after receiving the call that my uncle had laid his head back to rest, falling asleep one last time, it began a slew of conversations. The kind that take time and intentional thought. The ones that include long pauses and deep sighs. Are you familiar with these kinds of conversations?

I’m going to skip a ton of detail and get to the point as quickly as possible.

Sometimes we don’t understand why we are in certain seasons of life and why we are walking through things that seem far from what we had planned. And then one day, if we pay attention, we get a glimpse of the answer.

I have learned so much from the families who have welcomed me alongside them while they are experiencing loss. Being a witness to someone else’s pain is difficult to describe. To say that it puts things into perspective is much too basic. It has reshaped the way I see the world and now feel the reality that everyone lives and will one day die.

I am being taught how to navigate difficult conversations with my own children about death without being afraid. Out of all the many words and spoken thoughts we have shared, here are words and phrases I’ve learned not to use.

“He passed away.” Children are literal. We adults have a hard time saying the words, “He died.” We want to cushion the news. Don’t. This only confuses a child. When Jesus said that we need to become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven, I’m beginning to understand what he meant. Their eyes have not been clouded. They are still able to see things as they truly are.

“We lost him.” Again, children are literal and will question, “If we lost him, we will be able to find him.”

“He’s in a better place.” They will want to know why they can’t be there too if it’s a better place. And why would we be left behind instead of going with him?

“It’s okay.” It’s not okay. It’s sad and the grieving process may not have even begun due to the shock of losing someone suddenly. It will be okay, but for now, it’s sad and we should experience the sadness and grieve the loss. Remember that grief is unpredictable. It comes at the most inopportune times. Be prepared to react to things much differently for a time.

“We aren’t going to talk about it.” They want to talk about it. They want to share memories and tell stories. It is counterproductive not to let them express their emotions and thoughts. Of the many people I have talked with after the loss of someone close to them, the thing I hear repeatedly is, “I wish people weren’t afraid to talk about him. I want to keep his memory alive and the best way to do that is by sharing stories about him.” 

I don’t know this for sure, but maybe children intuitively know how to process grief much better than we adults do? I want to be open to change and continually learning. Who knew that some of my best teachers would be the smallest people in my home?Boys in sunlight

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
So we have no reason to despair. Despite the fact that our outer humanity is falling apart and decaying, our inner humanity is breathing in new life every day.
17 You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here. 18 So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on.

I’m sure you have many things to add to my five. What are they? Let’s ease each other’s burdens, even if only through the comments on this page. You never know how far your hope is reaching.

How to Know She’s Your Person

It’s the person you’ve known as long as you can remember having memories.
The one who holds your hair while you barf and tells you when those jeans make your butt look big.
She’s the same one who will say (in a non-embarrassing way) “You gotta little somethin’…” as she slides her forefinger across her face pretending to wipe her nose.
She’s the one waiting when you come out of a public restroom to ensure that you didn’t tuck your skirt into your spanx.
She’s the one who stays by you when you’re not worth staying by.
She’s the first one you call when something tragic or fantastic happens.
She encourages you to pray when you’d rather rant and take a deep breath when you wanna scream.
She believes in you when no one else does and tells you all the reasons why, even when you won’t listen.
She laughs when you act ridiculous and patiently answers every neurotic question you have about germs.
No matter how old you get and how much time passes, you always pick up right where you left off.
She’s your person.

Vi, thanks for being my person all these years. I’m so grateful.
photo 3Who’s your person?

5 Reasons to Spend Time With a Mother and Her Young Children

JCP-8081I had the opportunity to spend part of my morning with my friend Melissa and her two children, Alex (2 years) and Eliana (10 months). I’m so glad I had my camera, because what I captured tells the story better than my words can.

1) Be curious. Wonder. Participate in life from the ground up. Don’t be afraid to mess up. You can always start again.

2) Ask lot’s of questions. (Even if you think they’re silly) Life is about learning and growing, no matter your age.

3) When having a serious conversation, eat chocolate… and laugh… throw your head back and let loose. (Chocolate and laughing make everything better.)

4) Play and Explore (Be resourceful)
Build a drum set from the buckets you just took off your head when you were being a robot. Play hide and seek with the nearest blanket. Sit in the rocking chair backwards.

“Mommy, wanna go look for giants with me?”
This question from Alex diverted me from all other conversation.
“Melissa, did he just ask you to go look for giants?!” I asked.
“Yes. We look for giants at least once a day.” she replied.


5) Take naps. Even if you don’t think you’re tired…
Feeling grumpy? Chances are, ya just need a nap.

Children are the best teachers. And most of them don’t even use words. They use action. It’s not always the right action, but it’s action nonetheless. They don’t sit around, talking about it and wait to see what happens.

When did we (adults) stop learning by doing?
When did we choose to walk away from a challenge and instead immerse ourselves in a Google search or social media for the answer?
When did we stop playing?
Why don’t we laugh with abandon?
When was the last time you sat on the floor, observing your surroundings?
Some of us need to revisit childhood. If you don’t like the one you had, ask someone to take you back with them to theirs.
Come back and tell us about your adventures in the comment section.

Other things I learned on my morning excursion…

A single shoestring can transform a toddler into a giant-slayer.
JCP-8049Egg cartons double as very hungry caterpillars.

Robots get hungry too.

What are you learning from your kids…or friends kids…or nieces and nephews, grandchildren or students in your class? Have any great pictures that tell a story? Email them to me at joycannisphotography(at)gmail(dot)com

Right Before My Eyes

RiOne day he fit snug in my arms.
The next, the baby in his cheeks began to fade.

Seemingly overnight his legs grew tall, his arms long and he found a voice for his opinion.

His dreams went from lullabies to dragon slayer.

He put on the fire chief’s hat and looked at me with those piercing blue eyes and deep dimples.

He didn’t have to say, “Look at me, mom!” He knew I was already fixed on him, dressed as the hero, morphing from tiny boy into man right before my eyes.


I call him baby though he is far from it. Caden

He matures daily. His smile, his expressions, his voice, all changing and so much like his daddy.

This little one, once sleeping on my lap, stretching no further than the length from my hip to knee.

I can barely lift him as he fills out and up, though reaching for me as if still a babe.

He doesn’t just smile with his mouth, but also with his deep, soulful brown eyes.

This kid…no matter how much he grows,
will always be my baby.

Traveling with Boys

JCP-2-2As the boys grow older I am more intrigued with the differences between them and me. It’s incredible how they are created with an innate sense of wildness. They need adventure every day. It doesn’t have to be extravagant adventure, it can be nature. Every time my boys are loose in nature, it’s an adventure.JCP-49

We recently took a trip to the North Carolina mountains. We spent the days hiking, wading through streams, throwing rocks in creeks and using our “outside voices”…a lot.

I am constantly learning and growing from the way they experience life.

While on the trip some things were made very clear to me about “how to” travel (successfully) with boys.
photoThey need to;
Wander off the path
Throw leaves in the river (at the same time so they can watch them race and see who wins)
Skip rocks at the waterfall.
Walk through spider webs and feel the sticky strings tug the little hairs on their face as they pull it free from their skin.
Take their shirts off and flex their adventurer muscles
at the top of their lungs and make funny animal sounds.

They crave excitement and uncertainty.
They want to see how big God is,
how powerful nature can be and
how beautiful wild flowers/weeds grow.

They need to pee on trees and hock a loogie from the bridge.
They need to hear their voice echo through a canyon and laugh at the mystery of how it sounds.
They need to touch every insect they see and hold a salamander.
Stop and look at the trail they’ve left behind.
Plunge their hands into the mud and get dirt under their nails.
Taste the raindrops and feel the sun kiss the tops of their cheeks, leaving behind its warmth and color.
They need to test the limits of “No Trespassing” signs and jump from the highest point they can find.

They need to wade through lakes with sharp rock beds
See how raindrops form on petals and recognize how delicate beauty can be.

They need to balance on railing, no matter how far off the ground.

They need to play checkers on stamped cement by hopping to their next move.
They need to see all the colors infused into life.
They need to stand atop the largest rock they can find and say in their loudest voice, I’M KING OF THE ROCKS!!!

They need to believe they can be whomever they want to be. A hero, a ranger, a rock star, a professional salamander finder.

They need to know we support their adventures, endeavors and conquers.JCP-30
They need to know we believe in their dreams, no matter how grandiose.

They need to know, because one day when they face decisions about their future and we are not standing beside them, our voice will echo in their mind just like theirs did in the canyon years before. What they hear is crucial to the men they are becoming.

So, moms of boys, the next time he hands you a rock that looks like the last 23 rocks he’s said he “has to take home”, put it in your pocket to add to the collection.

JCP-47When he picks those weeds that look so much like flowers and brings you a handful with a big grin on his face, I beg you, take them, exclaiming in your most excited voice how incredibly beautiful they are and how thoughtful he is for choosing you to give them to.

Take a picture of his finds in his little hand realizing that one day his hands will be big and he will no longer be interested in showing you the petals of the flower he found on the ground.JCP-59So, do you “Have boys will travel?” Where do you like to go? What are you most looking forward to experiencing with them this Summer? Or maybe you want to add to the list about traveling with boys. Go for it, the comment section is yours.

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I turned around and he was gone

JCP-8406We had just enjoyed a delicious dinner on the most beautiful day you’ve ever seen.

Realizing we needed a few things at the store, Chris said that he would go and I could take the boys to the car. I gladly accepted as the grocery store triggers my OCD like nothing else.

One minute both boys were with me and the next, I turned around and didn’t see my oldest son anywhere.

He loves to hide and scare me when I walk by so thinking that’s what he was doing, I handed everything to my sister-in-law and walked a few steps down the sidewalk expecting to see him behind the big column.

Saying his name as I turned the corner, I braced myself for the “BOO!” I was in for, but he wasn’t there. I said his name again, only this time with more emotion. I looked down the alley to the right and in front of me. I scanned the parking lot for creepy vans with no windows and scary looking people.

My heart was pounding as I headed towards the grocery store entrance, it was crowded and I pushed my way through mumbling, “I’m looking for my son. Please…excuse me…I can’t find my son. What the hell is wrong with everyone? Get out of my way!

The thoughts flooded my mind. You know, the horrible thoughts that no mother ever wants to think could happen to her child. The ones that make your stomach twist into knots and send the acid up into your throat until you taste it on the back of your tongue.

Just then I looked to my right and saw Chris standing in the check out line. As I moved a step closer, there he was. He turned and met my eyes and I was furious and scared. I leaned down, holding onto his shoulder and in a not so loving way I said, “Don’t you EVER do that to me again! You scared me! You. scared. me! Don’t you see what a nervous wreck I am?!” (At this point, now that I knew he was safe, it became all about me.) Then came the tears…for both of us.

Chris knew not to say I was overreacting. Instead he was consoling our son saying, “It’s okay. Mommy was scared. She didn’t know where you were.” I responded with, “He should cry! He scared me!”

The adrenaline was pumping and I wasn’t calming down anytime soon. The lady in front of us was now looking at our son with concern in her eyes. I wanted to tell her to mind her own business. She didn’t understand the torment endured over the course of the last 3 minutes.

The three of us walked out of the store together and climbed into the car.

I was relieved and angry, sad and grateful all at the same time.

The car ride home was quiet. When we got back to the house, unloaded the car and walked to the front door, my little boy turned around to me and said, “I’m sorry I scared you mom. I didn’t mean to.”
“I know you didn’t darling. I’m sorry I made you cry.”

And that was that. I think I will have calmed down by tomorrow. Sheesh.

Talk to me. Tell me you would overreact if this happened to you. Or has it happened to you? How did you handle it? Did you use your meanest mommy voice like I did?

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Questions from the backseat of my minivan

I don’t know about your house, but at my house, the devil always shows up on Sunday.

Everyone’s attitude stinks! Most Sundays I think, “Why am I trying to get ready for church?! Is it even worth it?!” as my boys poke, pinch, spit, slap, kick, scream and hurl little boy insults at each other. photo 1photo 2 

You know the ones. My oldest will say, “You’re a poo-poo head!” while my youngest replies, “Well you’re a dumb dumb bully butt face!”
What?! Where do they hear these things?!

This morning was no different. As I’m sitting in the garage honking the horn for them to GET IN THE CAR, my oldest pops his head out of the house and yells, “Heeeeeee’s poooooooooopiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin’!”


We finally get on our way and I’m listening to one of my favorite songs from Natalie Grant called “In the End.” It talks about Heaven and how we will understand everything in the end. (Plus it has a banjo and I can’t be in a bad mood listening to a banjo.)

LightMy youngest pipes up and says, “Mommy what is Heaven, like a big bright ball or somethin’?”

I’m thinking to myself, “How do I answer this? I’m in a mood, I’ve been short-tempered all morning… what do I say?”

So I responded the best I could, “Well, Darling, imagine the best place you have ever been and multiply it times infinity. It will be like nothing we’ve ever seen. It will be the most incredible place we could ever dream of. In fact, I’m not sure I can imagine the level of absolute contentment we will know and have.”

It was quiet for a few moments when my older son speaks out.

“You mean it’s gonna be better than Florida?!”

“Yes Loves. It will in fact be better than Florida…”

Can you relate to the questions without easy answers? How do you handle it?

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