How DO you talk to your children about death? LORRAINE CANDY reveals the saddest news she's ever had to break to her daughters when a teacher passed away

As the end of the summer term hurtles towards us at unstoppable speed, emotions are running high at home. Everyone is fragile with exhaustion, and desperate to be liberated from the early starts of the school run and evenings of homework hell.

Our four kids look frazzled. The pieces of their uniform that haven’t been gobbled up by lost property are falling apart with wear. Shoes are too tight, and no one has any matching socks.

We are now officially limping through the parental time zone known as ‘almost there’ — for tomorrow, school is out.

There is a melancholy air of change about everything as rites of passage stack up around us. July is the month of growing up and moving on, an avalanche of endings and goodbyes — especially for my two eldest daughters.

Lorraine Candy explains the difficulty of telling her children that one of their teachers has passed away. Her youngest daughter, Mabel, 4, suggested they plant a flower (stock image) 

Lorraine Candy explains the difficulty of telling her children that one of their teachers has passed away. Her youngest daughter, Mabel, 4, suggested they plant a flower (stock image) 

My 11-year-old starts senior school in September and, unfortunately, some of her closest friends are moving away. Her sister turns 13 in August, completing her assimilation into the cult known as teenagers.

Meanwhile, four-year-old ‘Baby Mabel’, the smallest one, leaves nursery to start school full-time and my son, Henry, eight, moves up into the more mature Year Four.

Just when you think you’ve got the hang of this parenting lark, an entirely new routine is required.

The diary is jam-packed with leavers’ assemblies and discos, end-of-year open days, sports days, concerts and ‘meet-the-teacher’ appointments.

Getting to everything on time is like trying to solve a complicated maths formula, especially in the atmosphere of high drama created by nearly-teenage girls about to be separated from their friends for two months.

Excessive, spontaneous hugging breaks out every time they encounter one of their tribe at a farewell shindig. It’s more dramatic than an episode of EastEnders.

And in the midst of this most sensitive time, the saddest of emails dropped into my inbox from school one Friday night. A teacher of my girls had passed away after a long illness.

A blanket of gloom descended over me as I wondered how to relay this news to my daughters. She had been the form teacher to both my eldest two at junior school, as well as their English tutor. We all adored her easy-going nature and the way she took the time to note the very different characters of my children and teach them accordingly.


Bereavement among young people is more common than you may think. In one survey, 78 per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds said they'd lost a relative or friend.  

A teacher’s belief in your child is a precious thing — it inspires a confidence a parent cannot supply. After all, they are building these humans alongside you, so it’s a special relationship — one that often carves itself into your memory for the rest of your life.

So I did what you do in these tricky situations: I made us all a cup of tea. Then I relayed the news as calmly and factually as I could.

But how do you talk to children about death? What are the rules? How do you tell them it’s OK to be sad when, from the moment they are born, you throw so much energy into stopping them from feeling sad, even for a second?

There were tears, then the duo retreated to their bedrooms: this is what they do now they are on the brink of independence.

The youngest two, however, stayed to dunk more biscuits in their tea and not-so-secretly load their cups with more sugar.

‘So they won’t ever see her again?’ asks my son. ‘It’s like when my Georgie went back to Australia,’ he adds. (When he was six, my son’s favourite teacher left. He used to get tearful every time a plane flew over our house because he missed her so much.)

‘Why don’t we plant a flower?’ asks Mabel. This sounds like an unusually mature suggestion, especially coming from a four-year-old, but this is how Mabel answers every question right now (‘Eat your carrots, Mabel.’ ‘Shall we plant a flower?’).

Later on, the girls dig out some photographs of their much-loved teacher for the memory book the school is preparing. Then we follow Mabel’s very wise advice and plant a flower.

Lorraine Candy is the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine.


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