My sister recently passed away from cancer and my 5-year-old son is having trouble understanding what happened. He believes his aunt is “sleeping” and will “feel better soon.” Is there something we should be doing to help him make sense of his aunt passing away? Or is he still too young?
Your son is not too young to have a simple understanding of death. However, death is hard for all of us to fully understand. His understanding is not unusual for his age.
It is best to use straightforward terms such as death. “Passing away” can be misunderstood. Weave comments into everyday life. When your sister’s name comes up you can reaffirm that she is missed and still loved but that she has died and will not be coming back. If he is curious about other events of death, such as a pet or an animal on the side of the road, you can talk about death in that context.
It is OK to share with your son your own feelings of loss at your sister’s death. Be careful, though, not to overwhelm him with your grief.
Answer his questions honestly at a level that he can understand. For a five year old, learning that the cancer stopped your sister’s body from working might be the level he can understand.
Your family’s religious beliefs will also influence how you talk about your sister’s death.