If a child is old enough to love, that child is old enough to grieve.

Fortunately, most parents won't be faced with such serious issues as the death of another parent or other close family member. But just as we buy insurance against events we hope never happen, parents ought to prepare their children for the possibility of such a loss by teaching them about life and death.

For example, if a goldfish dies, don't just flush it down the toilet; use the dead fish as a way to talk about death. Discuss what that goldfish could do when it was alive and what it can't do now. Decide with your child what to do with the body of the fish, perhaps even having a small funeral for it. It's also a good idea to have a book dealing with death in your child's library. There are some splendid books available, including such classics as "Charlotte's Web," by E.B. White. It's especially good to spend time talking with your child about a book like this after you've read it together.

You might even consider taking your child to the funeral of someone he or she didn't know very well. There, your child could see from a safe distance what goes on when people die. If you do this, however, prepare your child for what will be happening there, and don't ask her to say or do anything she doesn't want to say or do.

Much as we hate to think so, death is an inevitable part of life. Much as we would like to, we cannot shield our children from grief and loss. When children face the loss of a loved one, parents have a responsibility to see that their kids are not made to fend for themselves. Grief is too important to be left to chance.