Helping Children Grieve
By mrsL on November 28, 2008
Probably one of the most difficult times to parent is during a
time of grief. There is such a flurry of activity preparing for the
funeral arrangements and greeting out of town friends and relatives. Or
perhaps the death of a loved one is in a different town and it is your
family with children that has to travel to the funeral. Either way it
can be an unusually stressful time for parents and for the children.
family has had both scenarios. Our stillborn son was buried here at
home and all of those arrangements were local. But we have also had to
travel distances of four our more hours to attend the funeral of a
grandma and an aunt, both times with children three and under. Here are
some tips that worked for us.
1. Death is a part of life. In a
Catholic family there are lots of opportunities to honor and talk about
the saints that have gone before us, discussions about death, heaven,
hell, illness etc. These discussions can occur regularly and naturally.
It is not a sad thing to discuss with children, but more just a natural
part of their development that one would discuss on their level.
Discuss death just as you would money, sexuality, or vocations -
naturally and bit by bit as they are ready for it.
2. Don't hide
your sadness from your children. They will know something is wrong
anyway. Trying to hide it just makes it worse. What they can imagine is
always worse than the reality. Model grief for them. Let them see how
it is done.
3. Include children in the funeral home and funeral
as much as possible. For my children, the time in the funeral home for
their grandmother's calling hours was filled with fellowship and
happiness. They reconnected with their cousins, there was plenty of
good food and to them it was like a large family party. The only
difference was grandma was in her casket. I let my children approach
grandma when they were ready. The older ones would kneel and pray and
the rejoin their cousins downstairs. The little ones would venture near
and touch the wood. One little cousin came up and kissed grandma's hand
and then scooted away. I saw him later with a donut. The whole
atmosphere was very natural.
We had a similar party after the
funeral and burial of our baby and the children still have very fond
memories of Raphael's party.
4. Include older children in the
funeral if possible. At grandma's funeral one cousin sang a solo, some
were pall bearers, some ushers or readers. At baby Raphael's funeral
his two older brothers served the mass. Participating made them feel
grown up and also as if they were really important to what was going on
5. Babies and toddlers at a funeral can be trouble,
but I wouldn't necessarily exclude them. (HowHowever I would not take a
baby or small child to a baby's funeral. That would be insensitive. I'm
speaking in general of an adult funeral.) Older relatives and friends
will love to see them. But for the more solemn parts it might be best
if they can be in another room with an adult or older child. At my
sister-in-law's funeral I took my baby and toddler out and I was so
happy to have a private room where they could watch Veggie Tale videos
and no one could hear them fuss.
6. After the funeral it might
be nice to make a scrap book or other remembrance of the deceased. Let
the children help to pick the pictures and decorate. Also during the
month of November, the traditional month for remembering the dead, have
the children help you make a special place in your home for remembering
and honoring those that have passed on before.
7. Make visiting
the cemetery a fun occasion! We visit our baby's grave regularly but on
his birthday we always try to take out balloons and a cake to share. We
also love to visit at Christmas time with all of the pretty decorations
that others leave and Memorial where the cemetery looks like a rolling
sea of red white and blue flags!
8. Visiting cemeteries can be
educational too! In Ohio we have the tombs of two famous presidents,
Garfield and McKinley and my older children have learned much about
those time periods before and after our visits to those spots.
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