Everyone approaches death differently.
However, if their approach could hurt the deceased’s family in the process, they should consider trying something else.
Redditor spacecadetcenttal struggled with this when she realized how differently she and her sister were processing a death in the family.
When she realized how this difference would impact their respective children, the woman shared her reaction in the “Am I the A**hole?” (AITA) subReddit.
The Original Poster (OP) asked the sub:
“AITA (Am I the A**hole) for telling my niece that my husband is dead?”
When the OP’s husband died, the funeral appeared to go the traditional way.
“My husband died last year. We have 2 beautiful children that are now 5 & 8.”
“When he died, my sister made the trip up to the funeral (she lives in a different state), her husband stayed home with their kid. I didn’t think that was weird.”
But when the OP’s sister came for a visit, she realized secrets and lies were involved.
“Fast forward a year and my sister decided to visit me, with kid and husband in tow. Her daughter is now 7.”
“At first it went well, the kids were playing.”
“Then my niece asked me when my husband would be back. I was taken off guard and she says ‘from his business trip’.”
“Some prying makes me realize…my sister never told her he died.”
The OP decided it was best to speak candidly to her niece.
“Now, in other circumstances, I would’ve let it go. But my kids are still adjusting to daddy being gone (we’re all in therapy), I didn’t want them to hear this and think he was coming back.”
“So, I sat my niece down and explained my husband died. When she asked why, I kept it simple and said he was sick. She was fine and didn’t seem upset.”
The OP’s sister did not react well to this decision.
“Well…my sister is pissed. She said that’s her daughter and she doesn’t understand death.”
“I said I have a kid younger and she gets it.”
“She told me that I should’ve asked her first.”
“I said she should’ve told me she was advertising my husband as alive.”
“BIL (brother-in-law) is torn between us.”
Her fellow Redditors wrote in anonymously, rating the situation on the following scale:
- NTA: Not the A**hole
- YTA: You’re the A**hole
- ESH: Everybody Sucks Here
- NAH: No A**holes Here
Some Redditors questioned what the sister could have possibly been thinking.
“Honestly, I’m baffled at how her sister thought this was going to play out. What was OP supposed to do when she asked her cousins ‘when is Uncle Ben coming back from his trip to London?'”
“How was she supposed to handle her own emotions and the emotions of her children, who have just been told that Daddy is coming back, that he’s somewhere where they could call him or video chat and that he’d be home again one day?”
“Her sister is so much the a**hole, for so many reasons, but that’s the biggest one to me. How could she do that?”
“How could she put those children in a position where, as they’re [trying] to deal with the loss of a parent, they’re given hope that he’s coming back, and that they’re going to have to go through that all over again when their mother tells them that they can’t see him again.” – ThievingRock
“The sister is absolutley TA. My cousin has a mental age of 7 and her parents never told her my brother died.”
“Four years later, they came to my wedding and my cousin kept asking me where my brother was, over and over, and her parents just stood there the entire time and said nothing.”
“I was furious. Everytime she asked it was like I was being stabbed.”
“It hurt so much & her mom just stood there looking at me waiting for my answer. I don’t hold it against my cousin, but I am still angry with her parents.” – buymoreplants
Others assured the OP she was not in the wrong and argued children need to be taught about tough subjects.
“Seven is the age of reason. She put you in a bad position of having to lie in some way to your kids or get them to lie to her kid.”
“You made the sensible choice of being truthful. And now she’s harassing a widow about it, so feel free to send her packing with her kids if she won’t shut up.” – RonaldMcFirbank
“I always work to the adage ‘old enough to ask the question, old enough to have it answered’. Obviously in an age appropriate way but you’re not doing anyone any favours by not answering.” – The_WRabbit
“Thank you for saying this. My family acts like I’m insane for talking to my kids openly and honestly about these topics.”
“They are 4 and 5 and are curious about the world. They understand that mommy was sad because her uncle died, and that death means people do not come back, but live on in our memories and the stories we tell about them.”
“Their great grandma died. Their grandma’s dog died. We are in a pandemic. They want to talk about these things.”
“They ask about where babies come from and we talk about it in an age appropriate manner. It was all really brought to light when our dog had puppies and they watched as I helped deliver them.”
“It was an incredible teaching moment, and they were quiet, compassionate, and helped bring towels and set up a secondary space while I cleaned everything up.”
“Children are curious about the world. My husband likes to give one word answers while I’ll have conversations with them as long as they’d like.”
“Heck, a question about how volcanoes are made and how they work devolved into a 2 hour discussion about the different theories on how the world was made, atmospheric pressure, and gravity.”
“Kids want to learn. They want to have actual discussions about the world around them. Adults just have to be willing to set aside the time to talk, listen, and navigate through difficult conversations in ways that make sense to children.”
“Thank you for talking to your kids, and thank you for letting me know I’m not the only one who is crazy enough to be age appropriately honest from the moment they start asking questions.” – FormerWindow
Some agreed and also questioned how the sister could put her niece and nephew in such a position.
“Seeing as they’re in therapy for it, having somebody keep asking about his ‘business trip’ and about how he’ll come back soon, that would definitely f’k them up. The sister has no idea what they were setting their daughter up for and should be ashamed” – hellothisisscott
“Your sister is TA here. If she thinks a 7 year old can’t handle the concept of death, what does she think you’ve been telling your own children??”
“And how did she think that was going to make your children feel when their cousin is acting like their dad is just away on a trip?” – yourlittlebirdie
Though it can be difficult to initially explain a tough concept like death to a child, it is a vital part of their growing up. Not to mention how the niece’s questions could have harmed her aunt’s and cousins’ grieving processes, through no fault of her own.