How to Walk With Children Through Death and Grief

Lacy Finn Borgo

by Lacy Finn Borgo

Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.



Jeremy and Jamika, eight-year-old twins, are similar in many ways. However, when their grandfather died, their grief journeys were quite different. One expressed sorrow through tears, while the other was silent and withdrawn. When one had questions about death and God, the other wanted to draw pictures of the funeral and family. However, one theme was clear: in all their experiences and expressions, they both were looking for compassion and connection.

Psalm 34:18 offers us comforting guidance, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, he saves the crushed in spirit.” We all long for God to be near to us and heal our wounds – children included.

Stay Close: The Power of Proximity

The fact that children need healthy connections with adults is never more true than when they have experienced the loss of a loved one. In times of sorrow, nearness communicates safety. For a child, the physical nearness and emotional availability of loving adults provides an anchor in the tumultuous seas of sorrow. They need adults to hear and therefore witness their strong feelings. God’s tender loving nearness and healing comes in many forms and, for a child, it can come through trustworthy adults.

Jeremy expressed his grief by playing out the story of his grandfather’s illness and subsequent death through matchbox cars. Sometimes he would tell a story and other times he would ram them together with all his might. Jamika ran through reams of watercolor paper. She used color, texture, and running monologue to share her thoughts and feelings. Jamika struggled at school. Jeremy did not. A child’s expression of loss can look like acting out. Uncooperative behavior for a child who is generally cooperative is a request for help.

Some children will express their grief through withdrawal, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need a way to express what they feel. A few art supplies and generous invitations for slow, gentle listening can be a balm to a sore soul. Expressions of loss, also stir up longing. “I miss my grandpa,” is a longing for nearness. Children become acutely aware of their need for deep connection with adults and God during loss. The One Who Loved them into being shares their sorrow. When we say, “God is with us when we’re sad,” we offer living words to sorrowing hearts.

Big, Angry Feelings

Anger is also an emotion children can feel during seasons of grief. Being a listening presence to their anger and even helping them express their anger in healthy ways helps them to process their pain. Jamika and Jeremy’s family and friends spoke about their grandfather often, and showed their own feelings, which helped the children express theirs.

Moving their bodies, talking, art expression, and play are all ways to express whatever big feelings come up. We can come alongside children as they share their feelings with God. God loves us and wants to be with us even as we have big emotions. A child’s relationship with God deepens when they experience God’s presence in their pain.

Make Space for Questions

Like adults, children need space to express their wondering thoughts around death. They might share them through the stories they tell while playing, or through art, or even questions they ask just before bedtime. Death and grief can stir our questions around our existence, what happens to us after we die (some children might ask for specifics), and who God is. The physical absence of the loved one can also open questions around safety. Children need to be able to express their hard questions while also being assured of their own safety and of those they love.

We can make space for questions without feeling we need to answer them all. When we assure children of their safety, it does not mean offering them platitudes. Platitudes are expressions of the pain or anxiety of the adult, offered to children to help adults feel better. It’s essential that we have our own people and places to share our sadness and wonderings.

Children can ask hard and uncomfortable questions. Jamika asked if her grandpa would get cold in the ground. With just a few simple sentences her mother answered, “The part that made him grandpa is not in his body anymore. Grandpa is with God.” This response gave Jamika something to ponder along with her pain. She also let Jamika know that questions were always welcome. Jeremy wanted to know if God was mad at him because grandpa died. His uncle created space to share even further, “You think that grandpa died because God is mad at you?” Jeremy felt free to tell about his feelings of guilt and his uncle listened attentively. After listening until Jeremy had no more words to share, his uncle responded, “I wonder if God is not mad at you, but sad with you. God loves you and Grandpa, too.”

The Psalmist reminds us that God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). Compassion and connection are tender bandages for healing. When we are present and listening to children in grief, we have the high honor to participate with God in the miracle of healing.



Lacy Finn Borgo teaches and provides spiritual direction with adults through Renovaré and the Companioning Center. She accompanies children at Haven House, a facility for families without housing. Borgo is the author of Spiritual Conversations with Children, All Will Be Well (children’s book), and Faith Like a Child. Visit her website and read her blog at