All living things - including bugs and fish and people - die. It's difficult, even for grown-ups, to understand why this must happen. It may be the hardest thing of all to understand. The best we can do is accept death as a fact of life. It happens, and we can't do anything to change that.
When - and How - Does It Happen?
Most of the time people enjoy long, long lives. Lots of people live well into their 70s or 80s, and some live even longer. Slowly, though, over the course of many years, the human body wears out, just like the tires on an old bicycle, or the batteries in your favorite toy. When important parts of the body - like the heart or lungs or brain - wear out and stop working, the person most likely will die. When this happens, we say this person died of "old age."
Sometimes younger people die. Sometimes a person gets very sick, and despite all the hard work of doctors and medicines, nothing can keep this person's body working. If a very sick person dies, you may hear the adults around you say that he is better off now, because he is no longer suffering. Still, every day doctors discover more ways to prevent and treat serious illness, so the chances of a person recovering improve all the time.
There are other times when people die suddenly, like in an accident. This may be the hardest kind of death for families and friends to deal with, because it happens so fast. There is no time for them to get used to the idea of losing someone they love. The important thing to remember about this kind of death? It's often so sudden that the person who dies feels little or no pain. We can be relieved about that.
Where Do Dead People Go?
Many people believe that when someone dies only his body dies. It is just as if a glass bottle full of water broke, and the bottle became useless. The container is gone, but what's inside - the water - remains. The part of a person that's left after the body dies is often called the "soul" or "spirit." Some people believe the soul is the part of a human that loves, feels, and creates; it's the part that make us who we are. No one really knows what happens to a person's soul when he or she dies. There are many different beliefs about that, and it's best to talk with your family to find out what they believe happens after our bodies die. Then you can decide what you believe.
What Does "Grieving" Mean?
When someone we love dies, it hurts us. We feel sad that the person will no longer be around to talk to or to have fun with. Their absence leaves a big hole in our lives. Maybe you had a pet that died. Remember the first few times you walked into the house after your dog or cat was gone? It was strange not to have your pet there. Maybe you cried - that's OK. We need to mourn, or grieve, over losing people and animals and other things we love. But just like when you skin your knee, the first, intense pain will go away after a while. It takes time for your knee to heal, but it hurts less and less each day. It's the same when somebody dies. That doesn't mean you forget the person who died, or that you stop missing them. After a while, we can go back to our lives, still loving them and remembering them always.
Remembering people we love who have died is one way to keep them a part of us. Pictures help us do this. Looking at a photo album can help us remember fun times we had together. Lots of families bury the bodies of loved ones in a cemetery. Then they can go and visit the person's grave. It's not that they think of the dead person as really being there, but it is a special place to go and think about how much that person meant to them.
What About Me?
When someone dies, you may start to wonder if the other people in your life will also die soon. You may ask yourself, "Will my mom or dad die?" or "Will I die?" The best thing you can do is share these thoughts with your family. It may be difficult - maybe even a little painful - to talk about these things, but it can feel good to share your feelings. It's important to talk about any fears you may have, instead of hiding them or pretending you aren't scared. The people who love you want to know you are having these feelings so they can help.
Did you know you can also help the grown-ups around you when they are sad that someone has died? Can you remember a funny story about the person who died? Or something nice that person did for you? Tell the good stories you remember out loud. They will make everyone feel a little better.
If I'm Going to Die Someday, What Should I Do Now?
There are many things about death we do not know and may never know. We do know that it will happen, someday, to all of us. But you should not worry or wonder about it for very long. There are too many wonderful things to experience in the many, many years ahead.
Reviewed by: Kim Rutherford, MD
Date reviewed: May 2001
Originally reviewed by: Steven Bachrach, MD
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