My family recently experienced loss when my Dad’s cousin passed away from a brain tumor. It was not a surprise but was definitely upsetting as she was quite young. My parents kept asking me if I planned to attend the celebration of life. Usually I would say yes, I will be there to support the family, but my husband was working that day and I had my 3-and-a-half-year-old. I him hawed around for a few days wondering what I should do. She had been to a funeral before, but that was when she was one and she did not remember a thing. We frequently walk at the local cemetery where we live and I have explained the purpose monuments and genealogy to her, but never why the deceased are there, how they got there or what death is. You would think working in the memorial industry it would be something frequently talked about, but rarely do we talk about death to her.
Finally, I decided to go. There is no manual for something like this as a parent and I assumed we would figure it out as we go. The day of the funeral we got ready, she picked out a dress and I did her hair, then the questions began. “Mom, where are we going?” “To pick up grandma and grandpa” I said. “Then where are we going?” “To the cemetery” I responded. That satisfied her curiosity, she brushed her teeth and we left.
We picked up grandma and grandpa and headed to the cemetery. Soon after, the questions began again. “Mom, why are we going to the cemetery?” This is when, as a parent, things get tricky!
“Well, we are going to a funeral.”
“Why are we going to a funeral?”
“Well remember grandpa’s cousin passed away.”
“Why did she pass away?”
“Well, she was sick.”
“What did she have?”
“She had an illness called cancer.”
“Why are we going to her funeral?”
“Because we are going to celebrate her.”
“Like a birthday party?”
“Kind of, we are going to celebrate her life and be with her family. Today is all about Jenny and the memories we made with her. “
She still didn’t get it or at least I don’t think she did, but she went with it!
She sat well during the viewing, but I know she didn’t comprehend what was going on, what we were doing and I know she still doesn’t understand death. Yet, let’s face it, as adults do we deal with and comprehend death any better than a child? Most don’t want to talk about death; it is hard for most to cope with it. I sometimes think she may deal with the subject better than me!
Every child’s curiosity level is different and every parent’s beliefs are different. I understand methods are different for all parents. Amazon has some great books explaining death to children, and depending on your search, they have some workbooks too.
Below are a few books with great reviews:
Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children by Bryan Mellonie
Lost in the Clouds: A Gentle Story to Help Children Understand Death and Grief by DK and Tom Tinn-Disbury
The Sad Dragon: A Dragon Book About Grief and Loss. A Cute Children Story to Help Kids Understand The Loss Of A Loved One, and How To Get Through Difficult Time. (My Dragon Books) By Steve Herman
Why Do I Feel So Sad?: A Grief Book for Children by Tracy Lambert-Prater LPC
The Memory Box: A Book About Grief by Joanna Rowland and Thea Baker. (this one has over 1000 5 star reviews)
What Cloud is My Mommy in? by Kim Vesey
There are also local organizations that help children cope with loss. The President of Dodds, Neil Fogarty recently participated in a panel discussion for a CET Special called Speaking Grief. There he met some experts who work with kids dealing with loss including Sally Reis from the Fernside Center for Grieving Children.
Fernside is the nation’s second oldest children’s grief center, and is a national leader in providing grief support services and outreach and education to the community and families. They are an affiliate of Hospice of Cincinnati. Fernside services are free of charge with the help of donors who support their mission. If you have a child experiencing loss I highly recommend you look into the services they offer. The link to their website is below https://www.fernside.org/about-fernside/ . To check out the special, follow the link https://www.cetconnect.org/speaking-grief/.
I think I am ok with my daughter thinking the funeral was a birthday party. We were celebrating our cousin and I want her to look at a funeral as a life celebration, not something sad. Although death is sad, celebrating a life well lived is what we always talk about at Dodds. Memorializing should be about celebrating that person, their accomplishments and how they lived! I am sure it will get more complicated the older my daughter gets and the closer the people are to her that she does loose, but I want her to know when that time comes, remember the memories she made with them and know they are always with her!