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Talking With Your Child About Death

Updated on October 26, 2012

As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth . . . For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.

Psalms 103:15, 15

How do you talk about death with a child?

Death is part of life and we will all have to deal with the passing of a loved one at some point in time. Most likely, a child will experience the loss differently from the adults in his life.

If you have ever lost someone or even a pet as a child, you can grasp at how the death affected you. None of us are ever truly prepared for death because it comes suddenly and without warning. For a child, this is much more difficult to handle.

Parents may be confused with the sporadic actions of a child in the period after a death. One moment they may be playing happily with toys and the next they are sobbing uncontrollably. Children experience grief in spurts and thus do not truly convey by observation what they are internalizing about death.

So where and when do you start to discuss death with a child?

A Pet's Death Helps Understand The Process

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Have you ever had to discuss death with your child?

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Emotion Cards

Nonverbal aids such as flashcards help children to express emotions. This enables them to share how they are feeling when asked by an adult or teacher.
Nonverbal aids such as flashcards help children to express emotions. This enables them to share how they are feeling when asked by an adult or teacher.

Understanding the Stages of Grief

Grief is a journey, often perilous, and without clear direction. Molly Fumia

Recently, the stages of grief have been redefined and condensed to three items. They are as follows:

  1. Shock: A numbness, disbelief regarding the loss. A feeling of disorganization may transpire or a foggy mind set similar to sleepwalking may overcome the person.
  2. Suffering: Pain is very prevalent and encompasses the individual. There may be a loss os appetite, chest pains may occur, a lethargic feeling and insomnia may emerge as well.
  3. Recovery: This usually occurs one year after the death, but it may take longer with some persons. it is a slow recovery and cannot be hastened. The person will reconnect to life's interests and may even have a new outlook on life.


Some of the stages may be evident, but in most cases the child will not display any signs as to where they are in the process. Children need help in externalizing their feelings regarding death. Signs that may indicate the child is grieving are:

  • Anger (may be displaced)
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Isolation from others

When I was teaching a four year old pre-school class, a boy who I will call Gavin to protect his identity, was aloof from the other children. He never smiled and would always be on the outskirts of any acitivity. After awhile the other children ignored his presence and he became invisible to them.

I talked with his parents about Gavin's habits at home and they mentioned that he talked with them and his little sister, but spent most of his time playing alone. They also told me that his grandmother, who was a real part of his life, had recently died. We discussed how we could help Gavin to externalize his feelings to begin the journey to recovery. Our solution was to give him the vocabulary he needed to express himself and to provide a reason for him to look forward to coming to school.

We created some index cards with faces showing different emotions such as anger, mad, happy. These he would keep with him to answer questions asked by his parents on how he was feeling that day. After a few days, he was able to vocalize his feelings and this provided the family an opportunity to help him heal.

Additionally, his parents said he loved animals so they bought some hermit crabs for the classroom. Gavin along with his classmates, looked forward to helping me feed them each morning. The crabs were fasciinating to Gavin and the children, and they worked together on a project about the habitat of these creatures. Over the next few weeks, we all began to see a difference in him. The first day he smiled at me, I cried. He was recovering!

Vocabulary That Helps Express Feelings About Death


The Grieving Process

Visiting places the loved one used to go helps comfort children.
Visiting places the loved one used to go helps comfort children. | Source

The Road to Recovery

In order to understand death, we must define love as part of the process. It is because we love someone (or a pet) so much that the loss is great. Children may even believe that the person died because they did not love them enough. Parents can reassure them that this is not true and let them know that it was in no way their fault the death occurred. Talk about the many good times they had with the person and how much the person loved them in return. If you are people of faith, spiritual counseling will help to reinforce the values of love, life and eternal joy.

It is always good to remember a person through the places and activities they used to enjoy. Perhaps they loved to go to the beach, fish, play checkers, etc., and this is where you can start a good conversation about how much it meant to their loved one. It may be hard at first because of the memories, so discussions on how they feel about it must be covered as well.

Lastly, some children may need additional therapy to cope with life again. There are some wonderful programs, such as hospice, that offer classes to families in dealing with death. Often, the child may be enrolled in an art or music therapy class so that they can express their emotions through this method.

When it comes to death, grieving is a journey and process and parents should keep in mind that it may be a slow recovery. But with consistent love and understanding, a child will reconnect to life and may even develop a new appreciation for it.


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    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Hello Vinaya! Sorry to hear how you missed out on the grieving process, but in a way the parting must have been less emotional? Thank you for sharing your thoughts, very interesting how children perceive death. Hope all is good in Nepal.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

      When I was seven my grandma died. When father said grandma died, I did not know what he meant, I thought she will return in few days. Death to me was a place that resembled to pilgrimage. I grandma often went for pilgrimage.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Becky, pets are very dear to kids and as these dear friends pass on it is a great way to talk about death. Having ceremonies and a burial also help. When that time comes, I'm sure you will cover it well. Thanks for your added value to this hub. Take care!

    • Rfordin profile image

      Rfordin 5 years ago from Florida

      I am happy to say that my children have yet to experience death of a family member or friend. I however have replaced several pet fish in the past few months simply to avoid the death conversation.... I haven't yet decided when I will stop replacing the fish and start discussing what happened to the fish, where it went etc. it seems like a topic that is bound to cause anxiety (expesically in my oldest). I'm just being have great info here and when the time comes I hope I remember some of it...for now I choose to keep them living in their rosey colored worlds a little longer.


    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I thank you for coming by here today, Millionaire. Death is a difficult event in a child's live, never know what they are internalizing. Thanks for your support. Enjoy your weekend.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      I didn't realize that they redefined the stages of grief, but these make so much more sense to me. You've provided wonderful ways to talk to your child about death and provide them with a vocabulary so they can express their feelings. I too was touched by Gavin's story. Voted up.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Shea, thank you for your support and kind comment. Glad you stopped by here today. Take care out there.

    • shea duane profile image

      shea duane 6 years ago from new jersey

      What a great teacher you must be! Little Gavin was so lucky to have you. Very touching hub.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Hello Babs. My heart goes out to you and your son. What a great loss you have suffered. I would encourage you to seek out a good therapy program for your son in which to help him face the heartbreak, sorrow and recover. You have my prayers. Thanks for stopping by, dear.

    • Type 1 Diabetes profile image

      Type 1 Diabetes 6 years ago from Cheshire


      I lost my daughter when my son was 4 years old. He remembers the morning the police took him to school. He was so excited by it. Little did he know why he was taken out of the way. He is 9 years old now and cries every morning for his sister.

      Having a Hub like yours is very beneficial to people as we can all realize that we are not alone in grief, thanks.

      Babs xx

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      It was Gavin's story that made me think about this topic. He was a great kid. Thanks for your visit, votes and support. You take care out there, dear friend.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 6 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Very informative hub that will be helpful to many to help children. I love your story about "Gavin." Many votes on this one. Well done!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Hello, PraticalMommy! It's a fact of life that we often have to suddenly face. Being prepared for the times helps to understand the process, still not easy but it helps. Be well and safe.

    • ThePracticalMommy profile image

      Marissa 6 years ago from United States

      This is an excellent resource, especially for children who have lost a loved one with whom they were close. Voted up and sharing. :)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      We all do the best we can when facing the loss of a loved one, it's really hard to know how you are going to react. We need the support of others to help us through this time in our life. Thanks for coming in and for your wonderful support, Anjili. Enjoy your evening.

    • Anjili profile image

      Anjili 6 years ago from planet earth, a humanoid

      Hi teaches12345,

      You are a good teacher. This I can tell by the way you handle issues topically. Thanks for sharing this in view of an inevitable eventuality to mankind. I try to cope in times of grief but there are times we are all overwhelmed. Will ensure to follow up on the young ones in future.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Michelle, I love your encouragement and support -- you are such a sweet, Godly person. I enjoy your visits and friendship. Wish we could sit down and have a cup of tea together some day. Be careful and well.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      I sign all my hubs with my name Michelle Simtoco :) You can call me Michelle LOL In school, we call each other you can be Teacher Dianna. Thanks for being a great teacher. I enjoy reading your hubs and wish have more time to read all the hubs there are.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Dealing with the death of a loved one is never an easy task. It is hard to reach out to others when you may have the same sentiments. However, time does heal all.

      I don't mind being called teaches. It's funny, but my students naturally call me that even though I give them my name. Guess it's what was meant to be. You can call me Dianna, Ripplemaker. And what is your name? Would love to know yours as well. Thanks for coming by here and for your constant support of the hubs. Take care and God bless you.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Dealing with loss of a loved one and how an adult can help a child can be challenging if you are unsure of what to say and do. Thank you for writing this as it is very helpful.

      teaches12345, may I ask something? What is your name? I hope it's okay to ask. I find it funny calling you teaches all the time. :) I would like to address you by your name if it's okay. Thank you and love and light.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Angela, I am so sorry for the loss! I am glad that this information will help children, such as yours, to make the transition to recovery a better experience. Thank you for coming in and sharing. Blessings.

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 6 years ago from United States

      My daughter who lost her father will still have moments of uncontrollable sobbing for her father. It often comes unexpectantly. This is a very good article for people who have children that are experiencing death to read. Thank you for writing it.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Hi, Treasure! I am so sorry for your great loss. I know the recovery process takes some time because I lost my mom over twenty years ago and I still miss her at times. Thank you for coming in and for leaving a comment. Blessings.

    • Treasuresofheaven profile image

      Sima Ballinger 6 years ago from Michigan

      This is a really good piece on teaching childen how to cope with death. I appreciated the story about "Gavin".

      I found some consolation here myself, as I recently lost my mother in March.


    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Thom, it's a subject avoided by many parents because of the pain it may cause. Thanks for your insight on the subject. Have a wonderful day.

    • thom w conroy profile image

      thom w conroy 6 years ago

      Always a tough subject to address for kids, way too many adults have trouble with death themselves and just avoid facing it. Good work!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Krsharp, I like your thoughts and contribution on this topic. It is a type of force feeding that enables someone to become stronger through the process. Thank you. Enjoy your day's journey.

    • krsharp05 profile image

      Kristi Sharp 6 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      I agree that death is something you have to accept but I think at times it's a "force-feeding". I loved reading your hub. Thank you for sharing.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      I lost my cat a couple of years ago, which we had for over twelve years. It was a great loss and we still think about him today. You are so right, it is just as severe. It does help us to face death differently when we have experienced it once, even if it's a dear pet. Jackie, thanks for your added thoughts to the hub, your opinions are always valued. Take care and have a great evening.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 6 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Somehow we all do learn to accept death, probably through animal death is just as severe but prepares children surely making their minds pass over the thoughts of human death. I thought I would never be able to accept a family members death but have now been through many and I suppose it is a lucky thing to have death not so close to help in that preparation.

      Great hub about an inevitable event.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Hello, Alocsin! It is good to see you here on the hub. I always enjoy your visits and comments. I agree, having a pet and going through it's death, does help to understand a personal loved one's loss better. Thanks for the votes of support. Hope your weekend is a good one.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I think one of the advantages of having a pet is that its demise naturally brings up the topic of death with the child in a relatively low-stress way (compared to the death of a person, at least). Voting this Up and Useful.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Alicia, your opinion matters to me, thank you for your support. Gavin recovered well from the ordeal and we were all so happy to have him enjoying life once again. He was a very sad child for too long before the intervention. Have a great day!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for this important hub and for sharing your experience with Gavin, teaches. You have given some excellent advice for dealing with a very difficult situation.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      You must have devastated, to say the least, with your friend's death, Suzanne. It is harder to grieve when it is unexpected. So sorry. Thank you for visiting and contributing to the hub interest. Take care and hope things get better with time.

      Urmilashukla, it is a hard truth to swallow and one that is not easily discussed. Open communication and a listening heart helps some one to process the grief and heal. Thanks for visiting and for your support. Have a great weekend!

    • urmilashukla23 profile image

      Urmila 6 years ago from Rancho Cucamonga,CA, USA

      This is the most honest truth and we all have to deal with it. Nice hub and thanks for writing on this topic. Voted up!

    • justmesuzanne profile image

      justmesuzanne 6 years ago from Texas

      Great information. My parents well prepared me to deal with death when I was a child since we had many pets, but when my best friend was murdered while traveling in Europe, it took me years to come to terms with the loss. For a pet or even a person who is nearby and perhaps ailing or elderly, there is time to prepare and go through the stages of grief almost seamlessly. When it is a sudden shock and the death happens far away, it is very hard, and the stages of grief are sharp, clearly defined and often revisited.

      Voted up and awesome!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Oh, I am so sorry to hear about your son's grief over the dear family pet. It is always hard to bear, even as an adult. Mwilliams, I also hope this article is of use to many parents in dealing with the passing of a loved one. Thanks for sharing from your experience and adding to the hub content. Have a great weekend!

    • mwilliams66 profile image

      mwilliams66 6 years ago from Left Coast, USA

      Very informative hub teacher12345. I wish I had had this when our first cat died. My son, now grown, was 5 at the time. We were at a loss as to how to help him articulate his feelings. It took a great deal of time for him to even acknowledge his pain. It was so very hard to watch.

      I thank you for posting this. I know that it will be of tremendous help to those who have children.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Katrine, thank you for visiting. I hate that we even have to discuss death, but as it is, we must ensure our children know it is not the true end of things. I appreciate your comment and support. Be blessed in your walk today.

    • profile image

      KatrineDalMonte 6 years ago

      This is a such a great and useful hub. I can relate, and this will help me a lot. The 'stages of grief' explained here is so true, and the 'way to recovery' is often slow and painful. Thank you for sharing this.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Sofs, I appreciate your visit and comment on the hub, your opinions matter to me. The topic is one we avoid but knowing how to cover it will help to conquer the fear.

      Carrie, you are so right, death is an important topic to cover with anyone. Thanks for visiting and your support of the hub. I value your opinion.

    • carriethomson profile image

      carriethomson 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      i am still unmarried but this seems to be great hub guiding how to deal with the innocent child's emotional questions,thanks for the hub which is very important in itself...a topic of death...............

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 6 years ago

      This is such an important hub. Many parents do not know how to help their children handle grief, some do not even recognize that their children are grieving.. I am so glad that you have dealt with this topic so well. Voting Up, Useful, Awesome and interesting!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Leah, so sorry for the loss of your great-grandmother. It is never easy to discuss this type of passing with children. I am glad to hear that the hub ideas may help to cover the issues with families. Thank you for visiting. I enjoy hearing from you!

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 6 years ago from Western New York

      We have struggled with grief and death in our own family - my young sons didn't understand the permanence of death (they lost a beloved great-grandmother). It is such a difficult thing to work through, even as an adult - you have excellent advice for parents and teachers who are helping children to cope with the loss of someone they love.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Ananceleste, Aaawww, thank you so much for the positive feedback on the hub. I am glad that it is one that helps families in covering such a tough topic with children. You are such a great support to me. Take care.

      Levertis, thank you for the insightful add to the hub. Yes, it would help those who work with children and those who have children in their lives. I appreciate your visit and supportive votes. Be safe out there.

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 6 years ago from Southern Clime

      Thanks for sharing an article that could help almost any family with children. If one does not have children, this information could be used to help someone else with children.

      I am voting up and clicking the positive buttons.

    • ananceleste profile image

      Anan Celeste 6 years ago from California

      This is gold my friend. Even though I was an ER nurse, dealing with death on a daily basis, I always had issues accepting the death of a loved one. Ironically, my children have always been more, put together than me. When something like this happens, I always were at odds on how to communicate the news to my kids.You are helping so many people out there teaches. Sharing.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Peggy, thank you for your positive comments and support. I appreciate your following my hub posts and your additional insight to them. Take care.

      Molly, the hub would help both adults and children with the grieving process. Thanks for your contribution to the hub. Great having you with us! BE well and safe.

      Carlos, you made me laugh with your approach to the danger of crossing streets. That's not such a bad idea to scare them into seeing the danger! However, the softer approach works well in discussing death in other areas. I enjoy your visits already!

    • Carlos Catatonia profile image

      Carlos Catatonia 6 years ago from new orleans, louisiana

      This was written so well. You have made me a specialist, no but seriously I had to talk to my four year old son about death, when he tried to run across the street without me. I told him that he shouldn't do that because a car will turn him into juice and he will never see mommy and daddy again. He totally understood but your article makes me feel like I should have taken a softer approach.

    • mollymeadows profile image

      Mary Strain 6 years ago from The Shire

      Teaches, thank you for these insights. They will help many, and I suspect they apply to adults as well as children. Up and useful!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      This is definitely a hub worth SHARING with many others because it can help countless people in helping children understand and go through the grieving process after death of a loved one. Thanks! Also hitting many up buttons.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      I appreciate your visit and comments on the hub, Faith. Yes, we are not promised tomorrow and each day is a blessing. It we who are left behind after someone's death that must deal with their absence. Thanksfully, there are coping skills we can give our children in grieving that leads to recovery. It gives support to the Biblical verse, "O death, where is they sting?" Have a great weekend, my friend.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 6 years ago from southern USA

      teaches12345, how did I miss this one? This is such a significantly important hub about a serious issue. You have done an outstanding job on this hub. We go through this life thinking we have all the time in the world, and when it is that no one is guaranteed a tomorrow here on this earth. Voted Way UPp!!! In His Love, Faith Reaper

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      I can't think of anything more difficult to discuss with a child. It just breaks your heart to have to cover the details. Hopefully, this will help parents to understand the process. Thanks, anglnwu, for visiting the hub and for your contribution to the topic. I am always glad to see you.

    • anglnwu profile image

      anglnwu 6 years ago

      Death is a difficult topic to discuss, especially for kids. Thanks for taking us through the different stages of grief and how best to talk to the kids. Nicely done.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Bedbug, I am so sorry for the loss of your grandfather, I am sure he is missed greatly. But, I am so glad to hear how this hub will help you have a discussion with your kids. Thanks so much for your supportive vote and for stopping by for a visit. You have a great weekend.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Hello drbj! Visuals, like the index cards, help a child to express feelings in a non-threatening way. It helps to open up a discussion and sharing of feelings. Thanks so much for coming over, I always love hearing from you. I appreciate your votes of support, dear friend.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 6 years ago from south Florida

      teaches - This is a remarkably understanding hub about the difficulty of discussing death with a young child. You did a masterful job, m'dear. I especially like your idea of utilizing index cards with faces portraying different emotions to help a young child express and vocalize his or her feelings. Voted way Up!

    • Bedbugabscond profile image

      Melody Trent 6 years ago from United States

      I think the flash card idea is amazing! I am going to remember that one. My grandfather died earlier this year and my kids took it pretty hard. Until it happened I never thought about how to talk to kids about death. These suggestions are amazing. Voted Up!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Hello Christy. I so appreciate your comments on the hubs. Thank you for visiting and leaving a comment. Take care.

      Minnetonka, I am so, so sorry that you had to suffer silently. I too wish I would have known you then -- Hugs to you! Let's hope that this helps those who are grieving and will provide them some comfort. Thanks for your comment and votes of support.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 6 years ago from Minnesota

      Dear teaches-This is a wonderful and helpful article to help adults guide a child that is grieving. I wish I had a teacher like you when my mom died. I was only nine years old and very depressed and confused. Back then, teachers didn't know how to handle it. I hit many buttons on this helpful hub.

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I like that you include your own personal experiences along with the information. Your hubs are very useful for parents and supervisors!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Hello, Vellur! It is a difficult subject to cover with anyone. I think adults sometimes neglect to consider how a child feels because they may not show an emotional reaction to a death. Thanks for your support and visit. Be well and safe.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 6 years ago from Dubai

      teaches12345 getting over death is painful, specially for little children. Your hub is a pointer to how we can deal with such situations. Thank you for sharing.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Hey, Formansangirl! You are ahead of it all and it help your child to cope with the loss when it comes. Thanks for coming in, I appreciate your contribution and support. Be well and safe.

    • formosangirl profile image

      formosangirl 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Very informative article, Teaches12345. Our cat is now 13, and we give her a lot of attention daily because she is now older. We talk about the day that we won't be around, and that we will experience loss. Great hub! Voted up.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Tami, I am so sorry for your loss. Grandparents do leave a hole in our lives, especially with children. I am glad that you found the information helpful. Take care.

      Ruchira, I am sure your just being with him was of great comfort in the death of such a beloved family member. Hope things are better now. Thanks for your supportive vote and visit. I always look forward to hearing from you!

    • Ruchira profile image

      Ruchira 6 years ago from United States

      omg...where was this hub when my dad passed away a year ago. Teaches12345, you hit the right nail.

      I had to sit with my then 7 year old and console him and answer his endless questions.

      gosh, it was a nightmare but, I hope I handled it well.

      thanks for such a sound advise. voted up indeed

    • Tami Fite profile image

      Tami Fite 6 years ago

      My children are grieving the death of their precious nana, and my mom... thank you for this hub ... it gives me heartbreaking :(


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