Yep, the need to find a way to talk about death with my kids began with my son asking this question as we drove past some mausoleums. But how to explain it to him?
I started out by answering his actual question. “That is called a mausoleum and it is a place where people who have died can be placed with their family who have already passed on”. Questions continued and I found myself explaining the process of being buried backwards to dying and then I panicked and bought him ice cream.
I thought to myself "There has got to be a better way to explain death." After all, I'm Pagan, isn't this something that we are supposed to be good with: Birth and Death and all the in betweens?
So I started talking with others, doing research, and mostly what I found were a few metaphors and the fact that no one I know is all that comfortable talking about death, be they Pagan or otherwise.
Now metaphors and stories are all well and good, however my son is a kid who didn't like that. Nope - he wanted to know how and why people died. Would it happen to him?
"Mom, why did Zeus die and where did he go?" (Okay not the god, a friend's dog). So I explained about cancer (being sick in general) now he's in a panic that our cats will get cancer and die. Okay, strike two.
But then I think "Puppets!" We have lots of puppets and they make everything better. So we gather together: a dinosaur in an egg, a bigger dinosaur, a squirrel with a nut, and a few random animals, now we've got the makings of a great story.
So here's what I came up with:
1. Using the baby animal (we used a dino in the egg but a baby bird or small puppet would work as well), have it slowly raise up from whatever your stage is, pretend like its hatching.
"Life begins when a baby is born. This dino was born when he freed himself from his egg." or some such.
2. Egg puppet sinks down and the bigger puppet rises up, "He gets bigger and bigger learning to take care of himself. Eating and hunting" It is a dinosaur, after all. So have a few other animals wander by and get eaten. This is a good time to talk about those animals giving their lives so the dinosaur can get strong and live.
3. Dinosaur gets old/or sick (a few fake coughs and hunched puppet will get that across) then have the dino fall over like he's died. "As he gets older his body starts give out and the dinosaur dies."
4. You now have a dead dino, have him sink down below the 'stage' talking about the body becoming part of the earth. "But the dino isn't gone, his body feeds other creatures" have the squirrel come along and pretend to plant the acorn in the 'dino' soil (can use anything to be a seed).
5. Have a tree or flower grow, something to show more life. Have the other animals come by and use the tree for shade or food.
At the end of this my son said "Oh! It makes sense now" then we had a really great conversation about spirit, recycling, rebirth. The other day I even found him carefully explaining death to the cats - with puppets.
I hope this helps you out in explaining death to your kids.