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.

When This Isn’t “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you were drawn in by the title, either because you are feeling bombarded with all the “cheer” while not feeling the happiness that others expect you to feel during this time of year, or because you are curious as to why anyone would not see this as the best month of all 12.

No matter which position I have found you in, I’m asking that you relinquish all expectation of what this post is about and be present as your eyes scroll the words and your brain processes the thoughts.

It’s everywhere. The way we “should” be feeling. How we “should” be thinking. What we “should” be buying…

So what do we do when none of our feelings encompass all of the “should(s)” placed on us, and the last thing we feel is “cheerful“?

I have been given the gift of “burden bearing.” I haven’t always thought it a gift and at times tried to mask or ignore it all together. It has only been recently that I’m learning to embrace it and see it as a blessing rather than a curse.

The transformation started several years ago when Katie was 14 weeks pregnant with her 3rd child. Her baby was given the fatal diagnosis of Trisomy 13. On December 19, 2011, at 10:45 a.m., Hallie Lynn Green was born. Weighing in at 4 lbs.15 oz. and stretching 18.75 inches long.

On December 24, 2014, Hallie passed from her mama’s arms back into the arms of Jesus. Katie wrote on her blog that day, “Thank you, God, for allowing me to be Hallie’s mother. Although losing you, Hallie, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I would carry you and love you all over again in a heartbeat. I feel like the luckiest mom in the world. I love you.”

It is Hallie’s life and Katie’s willingness to learn how to walk in the dark that moved me from a place of empathy to action. In 2012 I began my journey, through my lens, into other people’s pain. That’s a strange way of wording it, I know, but it’s the only wording that makes sense to me.

I have been invited to document the sacred moments between life and death. There are days when I will experience the beauty of life and the gnawing sorrow of death, all within a matter of hours. I stand witness to a wide spectrum of emotions, at times, with people I’ve only just met.

The way to deal with painful emotions is not to get rid of them, it’s to sit with and in them, making the darkness conscious. Knowing that there will once again be light. Being able to experience emotion is key to paving a path to peace. To suppress it is toxic. The further we push it down, the more it festers until one day we can no longer bandage the gaping wound. Some cannot believe that the light will ever return. But it will. Healing is possible. I’ve watched it happen. However, to come to that place, one must be willing to wrestle the angel of darkness.

It is helpful to remember that grief is unpredictable. It shows up at the most inopportune times. It often comes without warning, when there are no Kleenex anywhere to be found and you didn’t apply waterproof mascara. It’s presence is often uncomfortable and frustrating. Even so, each time it appears there is something to be learned. Though the uninvited teacher, pain is not our enemy.

For those friends and family feeling helpless, may I offer some encouragement? There are 3 things you can do to help the one you love.
~ Be Present (Don’t avoid reaching out or taking something by and leaving it on their doorstep or in their mailbox)
~ Listen (I wish we could be more comfortable listening than speaking. It is a learned behavior. When wanting to make someone feel important, listen intently to them.)
~ Be okay with “uncomfortable silence.” (Silence is beautiful when we consciously befriend it.)

If you are currently learning to walk through the darkness, may I speak these truths into your heart?
~ You are not alone.
~ The Creator of the Universe knows you by name. He formed you, piece by piece and therefore sees you and hears your cries.
~ Jesus himself promises that those who mourn will be comforted. (Matthew 5:1-14)
~ You have permission to lower the bar.
If you don’t want to go to that holiday party, don’t go.
If you find your eyes welling with tears while walking down the grocery store isle, it’s okay to walk away from your cart and leave the store.

We must embrace the seasons of darkness just as we long for the seasons of light. To have one without the other leaves us lacking perspective and appreciation for either.


Was this post helpful? Do you have anything to add about seasons of grief? How can we pray for you? How have you been encouraged through pain? Feel free to leave a comment and we will respond.

If you’re in need of encouragement, click here for a fantastic message from Joel Thomas.
To hear the song inspired by Hallie’s life, written by Casey Darnell, click here

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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Who is God?

This is the question that my 4-year-old asked on our way home from work today.

There’s nothing like that kind of question to make one realize that they don’t really know the answer.

The question that followed was of equal significance, “Does God love us?”

I have thought many times that I know who God is. Turns out I’m still learning and will hopefully continue discovering for eternity. The answer to the second question is one that I know for certain. Even when chaos abounds and sorrow seems to triumph, “Yes! God loves us!”

Several hours later, I followed the boys upstairs to put them to bed and the conversation picked right back up. “Will there be animals in heaven?” “Are there rules in heaven?” “Is everything gold in heaven?” “Can we buy a Nintendo DS in heaven?” “Do we exercise in heaven?” “Is Jesus in heaven?” “Will I be my same age in heaven?” “What if someone really old dies? How old is too old to be in heaven?”

As the questions came at me, I had to smile. In part because I didn’t know the answers to all of their questions and partly because I love that they are thinking about these things.

Eventually the more difficult questions came. Those that I too wrestle with in the dark when my thoughts are my only companion.

Mommy, what about your friend who was real sick and died.” said my 4-year-old. “Is she still sick in heaven?”

“No Darling, she isn’t. Elliot is perfectly healed and complete now.” I responded.

“How do you know?” asked my 6-year-old.

(Gulp) Well…I know because…well…because…I believe.

“Mommy. I know a baby in heaven.” said my 4-year-old.

“Which baby do you know in heaven?” I asked.

“Baby Hallie, from Miss Katie.” he responded.

It took me a moment to regain my composure. Katie and I were just talking about Hallie earlier today and what those days were like for her in the midst of uncertainty. It was a miracle that Hallie was born and the fact that she lived several days after was a gift.

“Will there be babies in heaven?” he then asked.

“Yes. I think there will be babies in heaven.” I said.

My 6-year-old chimed in, “If you die, who will be our mommy?”

Thankfully my 4-year-old was too curious to wait for my answer and launched into a new set of “Will ________ be in heaven?”

I continued answering as best I could until finally my 4-year-old said, “Can you sing now? I’m ready to go to sleep.”

I walked away feeling ill-equipped to have these conversations. If anything I caused more questions than I had answers.

I have experienced various seasons in my faith. One thing has held true. If ever there was separation, I was the instigator. If ever there was doubt, I was the first to question. Even now when trying to grasp an understanding of something so big and so far from my ability to comprehend, I find myself thinking, “Is what I believe really true?” If I think too hard or analyze too much, it does seem like the fairytale to rival all fairy-tales. Thankfully I am always snapped back into a realm compatible with my understanding. Jesus.

He was a man. Born a baby. He was grace, truth and incomprehensible love, in the flesh. He chose me. How can I not believe? When it all seems too farfetched and I begin to doubt, I turn my eyes back to Jesus. The tangible God. Is that wrong to say?

Whether one believes in Christ or not, history tells the story of Jesus. So here I sit. In a place where Jesus and faith collide and merge into one big question that my inquisitive little boys want to uncover and dissect. I will answer them the best I can and I will always point them back to Jesus.

I don’t think that God is one to be understood. Why would I want a God who is intelligible by the finite brain? I enjoy the mystery always unfolding. The twists and turns are what make this life interesting. I love viewing life and God through the eyes of a child who has yet to be influenced by the unsolicited feedback of inconsequential onlookers. Not only does it seem clearer, but the answers are not stressful. There is no argument or hostility. When they had talked enough, my little one spoke up and said he was ready to go to sleep.

I want to be more like that.

Dare I ask what your thoughts are on this? Should I open myself up to the obvious ridicule of possible responses? I think yes. Why not?

Oh my soul

Today started out like any other.
Get up.
Make coffee.
Eat breakfast.
Wake the boys.
Make lunches.
Go back upstairs to get the boys up.
Pack their backpacks.
Yell from downstairs for the boys to come eat or go to school hungry.
Go back upstairs.
Get dressed.
Go back downstairs to ensure the boys are eating and hurry them along getting dressed.
Get on our way to school and work (after a few other steps).

And then…out of nowhere….there she is…filling my thoughts.
The clouds in the sky, the sun hitting the early morning pavement. All of it reminds me of my friend who passed away only a few short months ago.

I think of Wyatt, her son, on his first day of school. He’s in 1st grade…just like my son. His daddy packed a picture of his mom in his backpack to show his friends. He looks just like her.

I smile at the picture of Bradford as she holds her teacher’s hand on her first day of preschool. She’s so beautiful in her blue dress with her blond hair pulled back and backpack on one shoulder.

I want to scream and cry and pound my fists on the ground. When I think of how badly she wanted these precious children and how she went to any lengths to give them life, I want to vomit at my hypocrisy and how nonchalantly I became pregnant even when I didn’t want to be (or so I thought). All that I took for granted and still do. All of it is put into perspective when I think about her.

Elliot passed away on a Monday in May and ever since then I have carried around letters for Wyatt and Bradford. Letters that I intend to send everyday, but never do. Letters that talk about the beautiful person that their mother is and how she not only showed love, but also lived it. Letters that make me weep just thinking about little hands opening them up to read.

Today…I’m not okay. I feel all knotted up inside.
Today, my heart breaks for a young husband aching for his wife and two beautiful children with only memories of their mother.
Today, the world is cold, and its demands relentless.
Today, the sun is hidden by the clouds and I want to close the blinds and stay inside.

I miss my friend and all of the time we didn’t have because of all the time I thought we had.

Posts written while walking through Elliot’s journey:
Girl of little faith…Why do you doubt?
When Cancer is no longer a Stranger
When the monster returns, Thy will be done
A Father’s Love
In the midst of the storm
A Tribute to Elliot
Saying Goodbye
21 Days Later
Finding God on the Farm
Five Minute Friday: Beyond
No more pain
Memorial Fund

Morphing into Grace

“The grace of God is equal to…
the most unfavorable circumstances.
It’s glory is to transform a curse into a blessing
and show to men and angels of ages
yet to come that where sin abounded,
grace did much more abound.”
~ A.B. Simpson ~

Finding God on the Farm

I haven’t written about Elliot in a while and I feel like it’s time.

I think of her multiple times throughout the day. I look at the sky, searching for the crosses that she always saw as “a sign from God.” The other day I was studying the clouds when I thought, “God, why won’t you give me just one Elliot sky cross?” Soon after, it’s as if my eyes were open to everything in front of me and I saw the majesty of His handiwork.
It occurred to me that I was expecting far too little from a God who is capable of so much more. Look at this sky and the earth below it! This is the artist who I so often times try to fit into the box of emotional perception when clearly He cannot be contained.

Why do I ask for an open door when He can knock down a wall? Why do I expect a morsel when I’m a guest at the feast? Why do I contemplate this earth when He has promised me Heaven?

Chris and I took the boys to a farm last week and I figured I should take my camera as I haven’t been to a farm since I was about 7. I thought maybe I could get some cool captures. What I found was tangible evidence that God knows my name, He cares about me, and He is able to do exceedingly and abundantly above all I could ever ask or think.

He didn’t have to use words. He used the beautiful simplicity of nature and the magnificent designs of His hands. He revealed more to me that day, on a farm, than He has in years. Or maybe I was just more open to it than I have been in years? Though there are many examples, I chose a few to share with you.

Worry, stress, anxiety…have always been a struggle for me. Truly, I think I was stressed out upon my delivery and ever since.

I felt silly when looking at this cow. Does she look worried?

No. She is completely relaxed and basking in the comfort of her Creator’s faithfulness. She doesn’t worry about tomorrow. She rolls in the grass completely oblivious to the storm clouds forming overhead. Because, what purpose is there in worry?

So then how much less do I have to worry? If a cow, one of the least intelligent animals on earth, can lie down in the field, completely exposed to all of the elements, surely I can trust my Heavenly Father.

When I am stirring through the details of this life, it’s as if He says, “Look at this chicken, how unique and beautiful her colors and feather pattern.

Do I not put so much more into the life of my children…if they let me? Upon comparison, the two don’t even come close.

Look at how the little ones run and chase and play, feeling the ground beneath their feet and the sky above their head. Trusting that the sky will not fall and the earth will not give way.

Have I not told you, be more like this…childlike. Relish the moments of pure unadulterated bliss.

How can I make it any more clear? I have painted the sky, using vibrant colors you have never seen, I have placed my creation before you to enjoy. What more do You need? How much is enough?”

While reading the latest entry on Elliot’s Caring Bridge site, one of the main excerpts her father wrote that stood out to me was, “I often asked myself, “What did I expect God to do?” “What did I expect the doctors to be able to do?” “What did I expect us to do as we dealt with a monster we could not see (except on a scan, and even then only if it were big enough to ‘show up’).
So often I get caught up in my unrealistic expectations. “God, I know you have formed everything from nothing and yet my worldly expectations have not been met to my liking.” (That’s rather embarrassing to write out for you to read.)

There are monster’s all around. They can be as big or as small as we allow them to be. We can be shaken and paralyzed by their threat or we can open our hands to the heavens saying, “Here. I don’t want this. I can’t handle it anyway. Here. God, I’m going to rest a while in Your presence with the utmost confidence that, (as Elliot would say), You’ve got this.

Elliot wrote in an email to her dad last fall, “…the C-word for me is not cancer, it’s Christ.”

She understood the faithfulness of an unexplainable God. She embraced the mystery of heaven. She loved as if nothing else mattered. It doesn’t, does it? When it all comes down to recognizing what truly matters, it’s how we love.

One day I will write a letter to her children and tell them of the incredible faith and perseverance that their mother so gracefully displayed. I will tell them of her love and commitment…of her loyalty…the way she loved. I will tell them what an extraordinary woman she is and that because of her, there will be more people in heaven. I will tell them that I am no longer afraid of death…because of the way she courageously met it after living a life of faithfulness.

“Elliot is more alive today than she ever was living in Vestavia Hills, Alabama.” I agree with you, Ed. And her legacy will live on long after we are gone.