Friday, June 13, 2008

Dealing with death and young children

When someone close to your family dies you have a lot to deal with. First you have your own grief. At the same time you need to be aware of how the death is affecting your child or children. How do you explain death to them? Do you let them say goodbye? Do you take them to the viewing and or funeral or keep them away from it all? It all depends on the child.

In the last year I know several families all dealing the deaths. They all handled it differently. Several different scenarios occurred, all with upsides and downsides.

1) Grandma died. It was explained to the children that Grandma was in heaven. They decided not to take their kids to the funeral or the viewing. The little girl keeps asking when Grandma is coming back from heaven. The little boy is angry because he did not get to say goodbye to Grandma like everyone else. Looking back the family thinks that they should have taken the kids to the funeral and possibly to viewing so that they could see that Grandma was dead and say goodbye.

2) An uncle died. The three boys want to go to the funeral and say goodbye. They did not get to say goodbye when other family members had passed on and they are upset about it. Mom is concerned about dealing with inappropriate behavior at the funeral. That they are going to be asking a lot of questions and are not going to be quiet and respectful. She is expecting to be embarrassed because her boys are disruptive of others morning. She would like to keep them home in respect for others at the funeral. It is a conflict because she also knows her boys don’t just want to say goodbye, they need to. They have had a real time understanding that other family members are dead, they never saw the body, and did not get to say goodbye. The older boy is actually angry that he did not get to see and say goodbye to Grandpa when he died a year ago. He needs some type of closure, and talking to him about it is just not enough. At this point she is planning to take them to the funeral because her boys need this and other people will just have to understand that they are children dealing with a loss as well.

3) Grandpa died. The boy wants to go to the viewing and say goodbye, the girl does not want to see the body. He wants to go to the funeral she does not. The single Mom had to decide what to do, leave one home with a babysitter, make both stay or both go. She decided to take the boy to the viewing, and both to the funeral to say goodbye. She felt it gave both kids closure and that if the girl had not gone she would have regretted it latter. Both kids had questions about death and the funeral, all of which the Mom tried to deal with before they got to the funeral. She decided to talk the kids through the funeral before they went. She told them what to expect, what people would be doing and what was expected of them. This helped out a lot. It took away the girls fear, and answered the boy’s questions. It gave them time to be comfortable with the funeral. There were a lot of what happens when you die, and why do people die questions. The pre talk actually helped a lot, and started to give the kids closure even before they went to the funeral. It was very hard on the Mom.

As much as we would like to protect our children from the reality of death, it seems that they need closure as much as we do. In our own grief it can be hard to see that. We don’t want to have to deal with it, and think our children will be unable to deal with it. That dealing with death will harm them somehow. We think that we are protecting them by keeping them away from viewings or funerals.

Yet we already know that kids need to say goodbye just as much as we do. Look what happens when a pet dies. Often we will have some goodbye ceremony, a funeral (if possible) and some type of morning. If this is what we need to do for a pet then we need to do the same when it is a person. It is a type of closure. Many children are unable to accept that someone has died until they see the body, or the funeral.

That does not mean it is going to be easy. I heard quite a few horror stories of kids being scared of the body and having nightmares for weeks. Another kid kept asking when Grandma was going to jump out of the box and yell surprise. She was quite upset when they actually buried the casket because Grandma was in there. How was she going to get out? Another kid yelled boo and wake up at the body and tried to poke it. Grandpa was just sleeping and he was trying to wake him up. It is all very stressful for everyone involved. You cannot give into your grief because you have to deal with your kids and that just makes it even harder on you.

So in one way it may be easer on us the parents to leave the kids at home. However, it seems not going to the funeral is more stressful for the kids and possibly more stressful for the parents in the long run. It is all going to comedown to what you the parent thinks is going to be best for your child.

1 comment:

  1. it’s good to share stuff like this I think. reminds us all how connected we are in this ‘human experience’ that is life…and LIVING.
    grieving steps