Gone, But Not Forgotten :: Teaching Children About Family Members Who are No Longer Living


My three children have a baby big sister. If that is hard for you to comprehend, imagine the dilemma of having to explain it to my three under three. 

Before I had my twin boys, and my second daughter, I had a first daughter. My daughter, Emma, passed away as an only child, her siblings never got the pleasure of meeting her and vice versa. 

As a bereaved momma, all I’ve ever wanted to do was keep her memory alive, but how do you keep a memory alive, for someone who doesn’t have any memories at all?

In our house, my husband and I do several things to teach our living children about their baby big sisterThese traditions will help teach children about loved ones of any age, as well as keep their memories alive.

Say their name. Although my children have never met Emma, they’ve heard and said her name. We talk about Emma as if she would walk through the front door at any time. We tell stories of Emma. At night, as we go through our bedtime routine, you’ll hear our boys say, ¨Night, night, Emma¨ and wave to her picture on the wall. 

Celebrate their life. This might mean having cake on their birthday, visiting the cemetery, or sending balloons to heaven. On Christmas, my boys will take some sort of yard figurine, or trinket to Emma’s resting place. This is also a great way to teach our children the value in giving and not receiving. Within those celebrations, we talk about what Emma might be doing in heaven. Maybe she’s having a birthday party with her heavenly relatives, playing games, or riding horses.  

remembering loved onesDisplay their pictures. My children have been introduced to family members they never met with pictures. Emma’s pictures still plaster our walls followed by her brothers and sister. If you were to ask, ¨Where’s Emma?¨ Their little fingers would go straight to the nearest picture in the room. We look at photo albums and talk about the similarities our children have. We still include her picture when we make those ¨All About My Family¨ school projects. Our children know that Emma is their big sister, living or not. 

Create a sanctuary where you can spend time as a family sharing memories of your loved one. This could be planting a garden, a tree, or having a memorial bench in their honor.  

Write the memories down. A great way to keep a memory alive is to retell it. 1) It serves as a reference for when you can’t quite remember every detail. 2) It´s a source of joy and comfort. Reflection is a great way to draw closer to the loved one and for me, it gives me a sense of ease amidst my grief. 

remembering loved ones
Emma´s brothers, Luke and Jake on a quilt made of her clothes

Use their things! When I was suddenly left with more toys and clothes one could possibly use, I was a bit overwhelmed. I was unsure if her things would ever get used again. Her clothes were turned into a beautiful quilt that we DO use! There are many ways clothes can be turned into a piece of memorabilia. Her siblings share her toys, sleep in her bed, and wear her clothes. 

Read books. The Invisible String by Patrice Karst teaches children that although they cannot be with their loved one, they are always in each other’s hearts. Mommy, Please Don´t Cry…There Are No Tears in Heaven by Linda Deymaz, sounds like a real tear jerker, but it is actually one of my favorites. Even though it addresses ¨Mommy,¨ it is adaptable for anyone. It is told from a child’s point of view and paints heaven as a beautiful place where everyone eats chocolate cake, sings, and dances.


Honor their memory. Donate to charity or do an act of kindness in their name, anything that gets their name spoken! See how we honor Emma at Acts of Kindness in Honor of Emma Kelli.  


My children have never asked why they don’t get to see Emma, or play with her, or really where she even is, but I know that time is coming. I think the best plan of action is to be honest and to answer whatever questions they ask.

It is my hope that whom ever it is you’re not wanting to forget, that their memory is alive and their legacy continues through your teachings. 


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