Martha Black: Encountering Death as a 6-Year-Old

Today’s guest post is part of our month-long series honoring National Children’s Grief Awareness Month.

Growing up in small-town Arkansas, I was always a part of a tight-knit community. If someone wasn’t family, they still felt as if they were. My parents were even the leaders of the youth group at our small church. Such fond memories come flooding back as I recall all of the times that my brother and I joined the teenagers on numerous church outings. Needless to say, our entire family was extremely close to the teenagers in that small youth group.    

Life was wonderful until one dreadful September day that would forever shake our community. I remember that morning very vividly. Sitting on the floor while eating my bowl of Fruit Loops, my life would soon forever change. When I woke up that morning, I could have never known that I would soon have my very first encounter with death. The night before, on September 15, 1987, Jeanette Hunt, one of the most spirited teens in our church’s youth group, was tragically killed in a car accident. I remember the confusion I felt as I saw the pain in my parents’ eyes.  

As my parents broke the news as gently as they could to us, I remember the words that my mom said on that morning. “Jeanette would rather be in Heaven.” I was a six-year-old little girl, and these words upset me. From birth, I had been taught about God, Jesus, and heaven, but I was so confused about death at that moment. I couldn’t understand why Jeanette would rather be in Heaven. Did she not love me?  Why would she want to leave me? My life would forever be changed by this tragic loss.

Only a few short months later, I would experience a second loss. Our pastor’s son, Marty Deere, who was only one year younger than me, would die unexpectedly. Then, it seemed like a domino effect of one death after another. In February, my fishing partner Grandpa would pass away after a battle with lung cancer. In June, my very elderly great-grandfather would die. Then in August, a teenager who lived down the road from us would die tragically in a swimming accident. At the tender age of six, my life would forever be altered by experiencing five painful losses — all in less than a year. 

Fast forward to December 20, 2015.  My young son would experience his first deep loss when my Mama (his Granny) would die after only a four-month battle with cancer. Naturally, after Mama died, I walked through a dark season of pain and grief. When I recall this time, as a mother, I feel guilty. I was not as mentally or emotionally present for my son to help him walk through his own season of grief. I honestly couldn’t see beyond my own heartache.

This gave me perspective as I remember that year of losses that I experienced as a young child. I was reminded of how my parents did their best to help my brother and I walk through our first losses, even as they were walking through their own grief. God began to reveal to me the challenge set before a person who has suffered great loss and who has children. It is extremely difficult to guide children through their grief as we are grieving, as well.  

To this day, I wonder how much different things would be for my son if we would have had a plan in place on how we, as a family, would handle death and loss. A plan would have helped both my son and me as we walked through that dark season after Mama died. We prepare in advance for emergencies such as fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods, but why not death? The chances of being in a house fire or even a tornado are far less than experiencing death and loss. Experiencing loss is inevitable.  

It’s not comfortable to discuss or even to think about death. However, grief and death forever impact our lives. Thinking back to my childhood, I wonder if how I would grow to view death would have been any different if we would have had a grief and loss plan in place. Could how my own child views death and loss be any different if my husband and I would have had a plan before his Granny passed away?

Martha is a wife, mom, elementary educator, faith blogger, and grief author with Martha Black Ministries. Her children’s book, You’ll Find Me At the Ocean explores grief through the eyes of a child. In hopes of helping others guide their children through grief and in honor of National Children’s Grief Awareness Month, Martha has created a “Family Grief and Loss Plan.”  It is her prayer that families will sit down together and intentionally develop this plan prior to a death. She believes this plan could forever change how your child views grief and death. 

In small-town Arkansas, Martha Black and her husband reside where they are raising their teenaged son. After losing her mom to cancer, Martha was led by God to walk alongside those who have experienced loss — making it her goal to break the silence about grieving. Visit Martha on Instagram and on Facebook.

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