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Death Is a Sad Thing

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"These things are nothing for kids...
But it did happen to you.
You're a kid,
And yet here you are,
And suddenly you have no grandma."
Chorus, Allegro

Death is a difficult enough matter for adults to deal with. It's no surprise, then, that children find it especially painful when they meet death for the first time. It's easy to imagine how upset they'll feel if, when one of their grandparents or a beloved family pet dies, even the grown-ups cry. It's even worse if they have to learn We All Die Someday, not just goldfish. The experience may include some or all of the Five Stages of Grief, but at very least an acknowledgment that It's Okay to Cry.

Different from Death by Newbery Medal in that the elderly relative or animal who dies has not been treated as a major character, so it plays out more like a Very Special Episode than a Downer Ending.

Contrast Dog Got Sent to a Farm, where adults avoid telling kids the truth about death. And also contrast Death as Comedy where a person's death is Played for Laughs.

As this is a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The manga Bunny Drop opens with the death of six-year-old Rin's elderly father. By the chapter's end, Rin is able to acknowledge that the man won't wake up ever again. Though a later chapter touches on Rin becoming afraid of dying herself, and of her new guardian dying. Daikichi comforts her by saying it's unlikely that either of them will die until she's a grown woman.
  • In Gundam 0080, 11-year-old Alfred has to come to terms with death when his friend Bernard, a Zaku pilot and Zeon soldier, is killed by another one of his friends, Christina (whom is a Earth Federation gundam test pilot). He also has to come to terms with the realities of war, in which he previously had over-romanticized notions of.
  • The last part of the first chapter of Gakuen Babysitters revolves around the protagonist, Ryuuichi, finally allowing the reality of his parents' deaths to sink in, with the realization that he and Kotarou may now only have each other. As he sits in the pediatric hospital crying, Chairman Morinomiya arrives to comfort him, revealing that her initial interest in him started at the funeral for the plane crash victims, when she noticed that like her, they were the only ones not crying, out of subconscious denial of what had happened. She then tells him that even though their loved ones are gone, they do not have to cope with their deaths alone.
  • Near the end of the Obon Festival in March Comes in Like a Lion, Hina, after making up an excuse to leave the house, runs off to an isolated area in the neighborhood to cry by herself over her deceased mother, save for Rei who follows her and chooses to stay by her side as she cries.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • When the Elric brothers visit their mentor Izumi, it's shown that she sometimes fixes broken toys for the neighborhood kids. Later, a little girl asks Izumi to "fix" her dead kitten, but Izumi explains as gently as possible that she can't because death is irreversible. This is especially poignant since Izumi actually has tried to bring the dead back to life through alchemy (since her baby had died), and she knows full well that there are major consequences for doing so.
    • During Maes Hughes' funeral, his three-year-old daughter Elicia is confused as to why her father is in a box in the ground. When the pallbearers start to bury him, she freaks out and screams at them to "stop putting dirt on Daddy" because he has to go back to work, not understanding that he's not getting back up. Her screaming causes the hardened military men who were managing a brave face up until this point to start to break down.
  • In Sweetness & Lightning, five-year-old Tsumugi doesn't seem to understand that her mother is dead at first, most notably when she asks her father Kouhei to write her mother a letter so she can cook for them again. Eventually, she realizes that her mother is never coming back, and it's not only heartbreaking for her, but it weighs on her mind for a while afterwards. In chapter 33 of the manga, she even wonders about heaven and hell.
  • I Want Your Mother To Be With Me!: Asahi's father died when he was very young, and he seems to have internalized "it's okay, since he's in heaven". He avoids getting emotionally attached to his pet beetle when it's dying, but Ryo helps him express his true feelings, and tells him it's okay to be sad.

    Comic Books 
  • As a child, Julie Winters was marked by the maiming and eventual death of a rabbit (although she was equally troubled by the callous way her mother put it out of its misery.)
  • At one point in Transmetropolitan, Spider recalls when he first learned about death - when his grandfather died. This being Transmetropolitan, he first has to be told that Grandpa's never coming back, and no, it's not like that time he beat up Grandma and then declared he wasn't coming home; once it sank in, instead of being sad, little Spider got angry.
  • In a short sequence from Gahan Wilson's Nuts, the Kid is puzzled that he can't cry when a favorite uncle dies. Then he imagines how he would feel if his dog died, and completely loses it. (Meanwhile the dog is very much alive, and straining at the leash because it wants to pee.)

    Fan Works 
  • In the second chapter of Paradise, Celestia and Luna learn about death and grief the hard way when a friend of theirs is killed by wolves. To make it worse, they came across him after the wolves had already killed him, his eyes still wide open in fear. All their mother can say to the sisters is that, as Earth ponies (AKA, prey animals), they have to learn to accept with death as a constant part of life. Their mother Lightning Strike saw her own best friend get killed by a mountain lion when she was around Celestia's age.
  • The second chapter of All the World's a Stage shows Roger Rabbit having trouble understanding Eddie's death.

    Film — Animated 
  • The death of Littlefoot's mother in The Land Before Time is a famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) example of this, and Littlefoot spends the next several scenes mourning her loss and trying to come to terms with it while he tries to survive on his own. It's strongly implied, if not outright stated, that it took him a while for her death to fully cement itself in his mind, despite his seeming understanding of it right after the fact. It's downright heartbreaking. Supposedly there was talk of possibly cutting the death scene from the movie for fear of it being too sad for children, but ultimately it was kept in because learning to accept a parent's death is something that, unfortunately, some children are going to have to do.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Avatar: Princess Neytiri and Dr. Grace Augustine have a good relationship, for Neytiri was one of Grace's many students to learn English. When Grace passes away, Neytiri feels a great sense of loss.
  • B.B, the daughter of The Bride and Bill from Kill Bill, first finds out what death is when her fish dies. In perfect Tarantino style, Bill explained this in one of the most awesome monologues in movie history.
  • Shadowlands: C.S. Lewis and his stepson deal with the death of Joy Gresham.
  • In Finding Neverland, the fictionalized Llewelyn Davies boys are introduced after having lost their father, which caused severe disillusionment especially in Peter, who continues to act like an adult through much of the film.
  • ...And Your Name Is Jonah: After Jonah's grandfather dies of a heart attack, Jonah doesn't understand that he's gone forever until Woody uses a turtle shell to teach him the sign for "dead."
  • Kenny & Company: After Kenny's beloved dog Bob is put down, he asks both his dad and the elderly Mr. Brink what happens after you die. Dad admits that he doesn't know, while Mr. Brink tells him that there's no afterlife, paradise is on Earth, and if you have kids you can live on through them. Kenny doesn't seem entirely satisfied by either one.
  • Fighting Mad (1976): After Charlie and Carolee are murdered, Tom tries to explain to his young son Dylan what death is. Tom tells him that when people die, they go to the same place they were before they were born. Dylan says, "Where's that?" Tom doesn't have an answer.

  • In the third Survivor Dogs book, Darkness Falls, Lucky and Mickey come across three Fierce Dog pups. Their mother was murdered but they're too young to understand what death means. Lucky explains it to them, buries their mother and a dead pup they find that's heavily implied to be Blade's, and then takes them to the Wild Pack.
  • Pufftail and his brother in Stray learn about death as adults when their elderly owner suddenly passes. They're experienced hunters but don't truly understand death until that moment. Pufftail calls it the "Great Stillness". Despite this, Pufftail doesn't learn that everyone dies until much later (and even then, he's in denial about it).
  • In Hayy ibn Yaqzan, the titular Wild Child is raised by a gazelle, who dies of old age when he's about eight. Hayy searches her body for anything that could be wrong with her, to no avail. He decides that there must be something inside her whose malfunction caused her whole body to stop working, and cuts her open in the hopes of finding it and fixing it. He finds that one of the cavities in her heart is empty. Hayy concludes that this cavity contained what made the gazelle live, but now it's gone and will never return.
  • Rubbernecker: Patrick's father was killed in a hit-and-run when he was eight. Patrick didn't understand that death means a person has disappeared forever — he thought his father must have gone somewhere and spent the next year asking obsessively, 'What happened to Daddy?' This led into a years-long fascination with death. Patrick would collect, examine, and dissect dead animals and watch footage of horses dying in racing accidents. As an eighteen-year-old, he decides to study anatomy in order to better understand death. Patrick's mother Sarah finally confesses that she killed her husband while trying to run Patrick down. Now that Patrick knows the reason his father died, he can achieve closure and stop obsessing over death.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Sesame Street:
    • Mr. Hooper's death in Sesame Street. It's not quite the same, as Mr. Hooper was a major character and Will Lee's death (from prostate cancer) was a case of Real Life Writes the Plot for the episode in which his death was addressed. It was also a case of Enforced Method Acting as the tears you see on camera are real — something the single take bears out very clearly. That being said, it did teach little kids that it was okay to miss the deceased, and that adults also feel sad, cry and miss loved ones when they die.
    • The 2010 primetime special "When Families Grieve" has Elmo's father explaining that his brother, Elmo's Uncle Jack, is dead and thus he can't play with Elmo anymore. Just like Big Bird with Mr. Hooper's death, Elmo brushes it off at first because, at age three, he is incapable of understanding death completely. But eventually full understanding dawns on him, and he feels sad, then learns how to cope. The special also deals with Jack's daughter, Elmo's cousin Jesse, coming to terms with the loss of her father.
  • An episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood sees Mr. Rogers try and fail to revive a dead goldfish, then bury it in the backyard of the television house. He discusses having to cope with the death of his dog when he was a child.
  • Ever since the famous Sesame Street episode, various preschool shows have had an episode to introduce its young viewers to the concept of death.
    • Today's Special had the episode "Butterflies" in which Muffy Mouse faced the old age death of her new butterfly friend Hazel.
    • Under the Umbrella Tree had the episode Farewell Findlay in which Gloria, Iggy and Jacob faced the death of their goldfish Findlay.
    • The Big Comfy Couch had the episode Full of Life in which Loonette faced the death of a caterpillar.
    • The Puzzle Place had the episode The Ballad of Davy Cricket, in which Jody faced the death of her pet cricket Davy. Given the show's theme of diversity, it also discussed various cultures' mourning and remembrance customs, such as Dia de los Muertos, Qingming and sitting shiva.
    • Wimzie's House had "Bye Bye Birdie", where Wimzie and her friends deal with the death of a bird. After finding out that the bird was a mother to two babies, they decide to take care of them for her in her honor.
  • An episode of Full House dealt with the grandfather's death, primarily from Michelle's POV. While this isn't the first of her family to die, this is the first time she's had to consciously confront the concept in real time, rather than in retrospect. Jesse doesn't fare much better, as it was his grandfather who had died; he ends up throwing himself into a myriad of tasks to avoid directly dealing with his feelings, only stopping to process the loss when he sees how his emotional distance is hurting Michelle.
  • An early episode of The Cosby Show featured Rudy dealing with the death of her goldfish, although this is clearly more comedy — particularly in Cliff's attempts to think he's soothing Rudy's "grief" (when she was simply shrugging her shoulders).
  • Growing Pains
    • Mike traumatized by the death of his favorite uncle, whom we'd never seen before.
    • Infamously in the 1989 episode "Second Chance," where Carol's boyfriend succumbs to internal injuries he suffered in a drunk driving accident.
  • Family Ties
    • Mallory is deeply traumatized by the death of her favorite aunt. Plenty of dark comedy abounds in the episode as a planned wake for the aunt and a garage sale for Alex's fraternity take place at the house on the same day, and grievers and bargain hunters naturally get in each other's way.
    • Also, Alex was traumatized by the death of his best friend, whom we'd never seen before.
  • In the first episode of Freaks and Geeks, Lindsay's new rebelliousness and questioning of her life is linked to the recent death of her grandmother.
  • A Kenan & Kel episode centered around Kenan's dad leaving him and Kel in charge of looking after his prized pet cockatoo and the bird dying in their care, although this was mostly Played for Laughs.
  • In an early episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show titled "Never Name a Duck" this happened (partially offscreen). Rob brought home two baby ducks that were used in an "Alan Brady Show" sketch and Richie raised them. Cut to a few months later - one is dead and the other is dying. Rob explains to Richie that no matter how much he loves it, it's not enough for it to survive. They have to release it into the wild. (How a duck raised by humans will cope in the wild isn't discussed.)
  • A Star Trek: The Next Generation episode focused around the young son of a Red Shirt reacting to his mother's death. Several of the main characters remember their own first experiences with death; Wesley feels awkward trying to comfort the boy, reminded of the death of his own father on a mission commanded by Picard, while Worf (who was commanding the mission the mother just died on) wants to perform a Klingon bonding ritual with him because he too was orphaned at a very young age. Of course, this being Star Trek, they had to deal with these real emotional issues while dealing with the boy promptly being kidnapped by an alien who posed as his mother.
  • Played for Laughs in Another Period. Beatrice understands death, however she never realized that she would ever die. Mind you, Beatrice is a grown woman. Realizing her own mortality sends Beatrice into an existential crisis.
  • An episode of Zoey 101 has Zoey invite Chase's grandmother to his birthday party after she learns that they both share a birthday. The grandmother agrees but has to cancel at the last minute because of the flu. On the day of the party, Chase is a no-show and Michael reveals that it's because his grandmother's illness was more than just the flu and she's passed away. Zoey goes to find Chase, who's just sitting out in the rain. The episode ends with Zoey comforting him while he cries. While they're both teenagers and thus do comprehend death, it's still a kick in the teethnote  for a loved one to die on your shared birthday.
  • This plot is parodied in the WandaVision episode "On A Very Special Episode...". Wanda's sons find a dog and ask to keep him, but the dog ends up dying after Agatha murders it while claiming it chewed on her azalea bushes. The boys ask Wanda to use her powers to resurrect him, but Wanda teaches them that death is a natural part of life and helps them deal with it (the irony being that Wanda recently created an all-new version of Vision after she couldn't deal with his death in Avengers: Infinity War).
  • Alternately parodied and played straight in the second episode of Don't Hug Me I'm Scared. While most of the circumstances surrounding Duck's death are intentionally bizarre (he learns of his own death in the newspaper, he's proud of being dead, and he never shuts up even during his own funeral and after his own burial,) Yellow Guy's reaction to it is disturbingly similar to the way real children try to understand death. Parts of his reaction (failing to grasp that the deceased isn't coming back even after being told, being resistant to change, and getting angry that things have to be this way) are exactly like Big Bird's following the death of Mr. Hooper.

  • The Trope Namer is the lesser-known Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Allegro. Joseph Taylor, Jr.'s grandmother dies early in the show, but stays with him as a Spirit Advisor, even after he grows up.
  • The sombre and gloomy tone of "Chiriyuku Mono" (Scattering Things) by hinayukki is caused by the narrator having lost a loved one and unable to move past her sadness despite the years that has gone by,

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: An early story arc had Calvin finding a sick baby raccoon. He and his parents take it home to try and nurse it back to health, but it dies. Calvin is devastated, and spends several more strips pondering the nature of death. Watterson classified the two-week arc as C&H's Growing the Beard moment.

  • In Pippin, Theo has a pet duck named Otto who gets sick and dies, despite Pippin doing all he can for it (which isn't very much). After the duck dies, Pippin tries repeatedly to cheer Theo up, to no avail.
  • In Beetlejuice, this is one of the driving conflicts in the show. A young Lydia Deetz is attempting to cope with the death of her mother to no avail, while her father only seems to be ignoring the problem. If it hadn't been for BJ, she would have taken the easy way out...

    Video Games 
  • Nanako Dojima of Persona 4 is deeply affected by the passing of her mother prior to the time the story takes place. If you build your social links with her enough she'll ask the protagonist questions about death. Also, her stage in the game resembles Nanako's idea of what heaven should be like, and is borne of her deep-down desire to see her mother again - either on this plane or the next.
    • With the usual side order of Shadows, of course, which turns the whole thing into horrific for some since it's The Heartless in heaven.
  • Rather harshly subverted in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Regina Berry discusses when she first encountered death... and makes it clear she has no idea what it is.
  • Lucidity: The entire game is a little girl coming to terms with the death of her Grandmother.
  • Ni no Kuni has the protagonist dealing with the death of his mother.
  • Much of the epilogue of Tales Of Graces F addresses Sophie's fear and initial lack of a complete understanding of death and mortality. It has a larger meaning to her than most people.
  • One of Carter's sermons in Harvest Moon: Back to Nature is about a boy whose mother died of an illness. He didn't understand death so his father tried to skirt around the issue and tell him that his mom is sleeping. This backfired when the boy wanted to buy an alarm clock for her.
  • Pokémon: A Youngster nearby a graveyard in Pokémon X and Y wonders if dead people are sleeping. He says that they should be given Chesto Berries (which wake up sleeping Pokémon).
  • Horace: The titular robot first experiences the concept of death when the Old Man, his creator/father, dies of a heart attack. Horace is so shocked that he shuts down for years. For the rest of the game, thanks to the effects of the Robot War, he winds up seeing death a lot, and says quite a few times that "death is really sad".

    Web Comics 
  • The Penny and Aggie Flashback arc "What You Can't Teach" shows Aggie, as a young girl, coming upon a dead bird and asking her mother Melody (since deceased herself) how God can let that happen. Melody's answer provides an important clue to the present-day Aggie's personality and motivation.

    Western Animation 
  • Rugrats:
    • The episode "I Remember Melville", not only does Chuckie's pet pillbug die but the babies have a funeral for it. This may not entirely count as a Death Is a Sad Thing because Chuckie's mother has already died. Then again, this was never actually shown in the series, and Chuckie honestly had no idea who his mother was, just remembering her in dreams.
    • "Mother's Day", the episode about Chuckie's mother has shades of this, but it's an odd example. Chuckie starts out upset that he apparently has no mother, and ultimately is comforted to find out about her, skipping the usual grieving. However, it includes his father Chaz having to deal with his own sadness in order to comfort Chuckie and tell him that his mother is still with them in spirit.
  • Recess addresses this in "Speedy, We Hardly Knew Ye" where the class hamster, Speedy, dies, and the kids decide to hold a funeral for him on the playground during recess. Then things get confusing when many people show up for the funeral, including high schoolers, college-aged people, adults, and even the town mayor. Especially when the natural lifespan of a hamster is only 2 to 3 years, and the Speedy they knew had wildly different appearances. It turns out that there's been many, many, grade 4 class hamsters named "Speedy", and Ms. Grotke reveals that the hamster has been secretly replaced every time the previous "Speedy" dies because the staff thought the kids wouldn't be able to handle the death of a beloved pet. In the end, the main message of the episode is how it's healthier to be open about death—by being allowed to grieve along with honoring the memory of the deceased—rather than always keeping it a secret.
  • An episode of Harold and the Purple Crayon named "I Remember Goldie" has Harold's goldfish prematurely passing away. He meets a mermaid who tells him death is a natural part of our life.
  • The Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood episode "Daniel's Goldfish Dies" (released in book form as Remembering Blue Fish), based on the episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood described above, is about Daniel learning to deal with his feelings after his favorite fish in the family fish tank, Blue Fish, dies. In the episode's second half, "Daniel's Strawberry Seeds," Daniel and Katerina Kittycat visit the Enchanted Garden to pick strawberries, only to find that the strawberry plants have died.
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks has the episode "Cookie Chomper III" in which the Sevilles adopt a cat, the titular Cookie Chomper III, which is subsequently run over on the road and killed. The episode shows how Alvin, Simon and Theodore cope with their loss and how Dave eventually encourages them to remember the happy times they had with Cookie. In the end, Dave persuades the Chipmunks that they can learn to love another pet just as much as they did Cookie, leading to them adopting a dog, Lilly, from the animal shelter.
  • The Arthur episode, "So Long, Spanky" begins with D.W. dealing with the death of Spanky, her pet parakeet. The Read family throws a funeral for Spanky, and Arthur tries to cheer D.W. up by shopping for a new pet. D.W. finds a toad, whom at first, she thinks is annoying, but eventually decides to adopt her as her new pet.
  • The Bobby's World episode, "The Music", has the titular character dealing with the death of his friend, Abe the crossing guard. Howard helps Bobby understand that those who die are never truly gone as long as you remember them, as well as the things they taught us. Bobby remembers how Abe taught him about his shapes after he had failed a test, and uses this knowledge to retake it.


Video Example(s):


Daniel Tiger's Blue Fish

In "Daniel's Fish Dies" from "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood," Daniel Tiger is upset when his father, Mr. Tiger, tells him that his favorite fish, Blue Fish, is dead. Mr. and Mrs. Tiger both encourage Daniel to ask questions because it might help, as well as provide comforting hugs.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / DeathIsASadThing

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