Explaining Stillbirth to Older Children

One of the main questions that occupied my thoughts was how to explain Claudia’s stillbirth to our other children, who were 4 and 7 years old at the time. I was aware that we needed to offer an explanation to them as to why the sister they had been so looking forward to meeting was not coming home. We chose to stick with age appropriate honesty.
Both children had been part of the local ambulance programme that gets runs through the school. One of the ambulance officers comes to the school and gives the children information on how to dial for an ambulance and the like, the outcome of these little demonstrations is it allows them to become acquainted with doctors and basic medical equipment. A piece of information they learnt was that if someone doesn’t have a heartbeat they are dead. Simple. So we used this as our starting point, a starting point they understood. Claudia was born with no heartbeat and you need at heartbeat to be alive so because she didn’t have one she was dead.
Pretty simple but ultimately far more effective for us than some of the alternatives. I had asked the doctors and pastoral carers when we were in the hospital if they could let me know any effective ways that I could tell the kids about what had happened. It was mentioned that the language to use should stay simple, be aware of using ambiguous words and cliches such as “she is lost” as it implies that she can be found and a child will want to go and “find” their missing sibling. The religious pastoral carers even cautioned against saying she was “in heaven” as the child may want to visit heaven to see them. (We are not religious but I found that quite interesting)
The children still come and ask questions about what happened, and if I don’t know the answer I will tell them “I don’t know the answer to that” rather than make something up to just give them an answer. If I do know the answer I will tell them in a way they can understand. For example, “Does Claudia get older where she is?” (I don’t know, but that is a very interesting question) or “Where you happy when we didn’t die?” (Yes, of course) and “What colour where her eyes?” (I’m not sure as she couldn’t open her eyes, but her hair was light brown).

This strategy has worked for us, although I’m sure other families had different explanations that worked within their families as well.

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