Talking to Children About Death
Talking about death can be incredibly difficult. We hesitate to talk about our own death, resulting in a dearth of preplanned funerals and advanced directives, two things we’ve talked about before. We’ve mentioned on this blog how the unwillingness to talk about death is a bit of a strange phenomenon; death can be an incredibly emotional, difficult time, but death is also an important, inevitable part of life. Our discomfort about death is largely socially learned, and it might have been learned from a very young age. When there’s a death in the family, it’s important to talk to your child about it. How?
Our instinct is to protect our children from pain and grief. We tend to skirt around death, choosing terms like “passed away” or “is no longer with us”. You’ll even hear about parents telling their children that their dog has “gone to live on a farm” instead of addressing the pet’s death. This can create a taboo around death, one that’s hard to get around in later life. When someone important to your child dies, you should be direct and open; don’t be afraid to show your emotions. “I have very sad news. Your uncle died last night”. This approach teaches your child that it’s okay, to be honest about your sadness when someone passes away.
Your child might have a number of different reactions on hearing the news. They might cry. They might grow angry. They might grow silent. They might ask a lot of questions. Be empathic. Listen to what your child has to say - it bears repeating that you shouldn’t hide your emotions. Your child might have a number of unanswerable questions, as we all do when death occurs; if you don’t have the answer, you can honestly respond that you don’t know. Cry together. Laugh together. Share memories of your loved one. The death of someone close to you is can be a very emotional experience - your child will need to express their emotions to you, and you’ll need to express yourself to your child; it’s healthy for both of you.
Humans crave the ability to control their surroundings. When we are faced with death, we are faced with the stark reality that there are some things we simply cannot control; we can only control how we react, how we carry on. This loss of control is often acutely felt by children, who may not feel like they had much control, to begin with - giving them some measure of control can add stability to their lives. Allow your child to participate in decisions about the funeral, if possible; let them participate at the funeral, allow them to choose a song or a story to be shared, encourage them to share memories. A further measure of control your child will need is the ability to grieve in their own way. Be there for them, so you can talk about their feelings, but don’t pressure them into acting in a particular way; just let them know you’re there if they need you.
Stability is key to child development. Your routine might, of course, change as the result of a death. You should strive to keep it as consistent as possible, however; when children know what to expect, they thrive. Should there be changes to the routine as a result of death, you should tell your child exactly what those changes will be - that you’ll be away for a few days, that they can expect more visitors around the house (and when those visitors can be expected, if possible), when the funeral will be, and any other differences they can expect. You should also tell them, as clearly as possible, exactly how the funeral is going to proceed, so they know what role they play.
The most important thing to remember is that the grieving process is different for everyone; that includes yourself and your child. A mindset of forgiveness helps here; forgiving yourself when you grow impatient, or if you can’t be as present for your child as you’d like, forgiving your child for behaviour that you may find frustrating when your own emotions are so turbulent.
At Alterna Cremation, we offer more than just cremation services; we offer a safe space for you to come, and grieve, and celebrate, and remember your loved one. We have resources for anything you might need, and if you have any questions at all after the death of a loved one, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us; we’ll be here to listen and to help.