An article about teaching children about death and ways to help them cope
Death is never easy to face, even as an adult. Now that I understand it better and respect the deceased; it is my turn to teach my children about death and immortality, so they won't be afraid.
I remember as a child going to my grandmother's funeral and burrowing my face in my mother's dress. I was literally petrified. The worst part was that my mother made me go kiss my dead grandmother on the cheek! Since then, I have a very hard time upon seeing dead people.
Going to my uncle's funeral just this past week brought me to face death once again. This time, I was not as afraid, mainly because I was older. I was able to look at his body and realize he was in a better place and that he was finally with his mother and at peace.
It was difficult for me to explain to my children why and how he died. I think ultimately, alcohol killed him. He was a Vietnam Veteran that really never got over the repercussions of the war and drinking was the only way he knew how to cope. It was hard to help my children understand the choices we make can yield painful and even tragic consequences.
It was harder to face my aunt and her kids because they knew that someday alcohol would kill their loved one. At first I worried about the reaction my children would express when they went to his funeral. I was very surprised when my children went right up to the casket and said their goodbyes. I think by preparing them a little before hand, they were able to deal with it, without being afraid. I didn't make a huge deal about it, but I did explain the process and what happens afterwards.
Being a Christian, I believe once you die, your spirit goes up to the God who created you and your body rests in a grave, until it can be reunited with your spirit. I understand that not everyone believes in that process and that is ok. I wanted my children to be able to accept death as a process, not as a means to an end.
There are ways in which we can prepare our children to face death in a positive and productive way.
1. Explain to them that we all have to die, sometime. I discussed this with my kids and got some interesting responses back from them. My daughter didn't seem to mind that when her time was up, she would progress to another level. My son, on the other hand was very adamant about dying. He was afraid of how he would die. I think we all our, in our own way, afraid of some part of the natural process.
2. Let them write their feelings down, either as a poem or in their journal. Ask them if they have questions about it and then honestly tell them them how you feel. I told them it was ok to feel a little scared at a funeral and that if they felt uncomfortable in anyway, they could sit in a chair or go outside. We also said a little prayer before we left and asked God to help us to get through the funeral, feeling comforted and at peace.
3. Don't pressure them into looking at the body at a funeral. As I explained above, that happened to me once and it traumatized me to the point that I never wanted to go to another funeral again. Instead, let them make that decision for themselves.
4. Talk about the person's life with your children. Help them to understand that going to a funeral doesn't have to be a bad experience and that we attend funerals to celebrate people's life and talk about good times.
5. When the funeral is over, ask them how they felt. Listen to their concerns and help them to accept death. I know just by my husband's and I preparing our children before the funeral, they had an easier time.
I hope and pray that each of you will be comforted when your loved ones leave this earth and that your children will understand and accept death with your help