Many adults make the mistake of assuming that children are unable to understand death. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Younger children actually have trouble with the permanency of death. Older children on the other hand understand quite well how permanent death is. This is why its best to be honest and 100% truthful when addressing such a topic. It may not be a good idea to “sugar coat” death and say that the beloved is “going on a trip” or “is away for a while.” This can give your child an unrealistic expectation. It can also it more difficult in a few days, weeks, or months to explain why that person hasn’t come back.
Being honest about death ensures that the lines of communication between you and your child are open. Children have a natural instinct (just as parents do) when they feel someone isn’t telling the truth. In the stressful times (before, during, and after) a loved ones passing, it’s vital that your child feels that they have someone to talk to. As hard as it may be, that someone has to be YOU!
Death is not an easy thing. It hurts. It creates holes in our hearts and our lives. When your child sees your display of emotions, this shows him or her that it’s okay to have and to express these feelings rather than keeping them bottled inside. This is the healthy way to deal with death.
Showing emotion isn’t a bad thing. We want our children to know that it’s okay to cry if they’re sad. It’s okay to be angry when someone we care about has been taken away from us by death. It’s even okay to be confused and scared. Being able to display and voice the emotions we’re feeling is the first step in the path to healing from the loss.
Death is difficult for anyone to understand. We all get confused, sad, angry, and upset when death occurs. We all want to know, “Why?” Some questions in life simply have no answer.
It’s important for your child to know that you don’t understand either. While we all have that period of time where we’re “Super Man/Wonder Woman” (and the periods where we don’t know anything) to our children, it’s also okay for them to see us as the humans that we are. Admitting that you don’t know “why” allows your child to know that you are exactly like him or her. We all need support and empathy in the time of death.
Planning a unique memorial might help in dealing with the after-math of a passing. I don’t mean a funeral. Your child will greatly appreciate a special and unique way for them to remember their loved one. There are many different creative ways to accomplish this.
When my family experienced a stillbirth, my children wrote a story and drew pictures for their baby brother. We planted a beautiful dwarf pear tree in the yard and called it Michael’s tree. Doing these things and watching the tree grow helped all of us heal.
One last thing.This is perhaps the most difficult of all but, please try to resist the urge of hanging onto your child so tightly that he or she begins to feel smothered. I’m sure you’re thinking, ” But we’re parents and we’re supposed to protect our children”. Of course we’ll protect them, but we have to give them space to heal themselves. As hard as this is, we have to let our children experience things on their own, even the “bad” things in life that we can’t avoid (or protect them from). I know this sounds impossible, but it can be done.
If you and your family have gone through a recent loss , we extend our many thoughts and sympathies to you and your children through your tough times. May you all find your way to having peace.