My grandmother was one of the relatives who recently passed away, and my children knew her well. I doubt my three-year-old will remember, but I hope my five-year-old daughter retains fond memories of visiting her great grandmother at the nursing home, feeding her, singing her songs and telling her stories. To me, there's nothing like connecting the older and younger generations.
I struggled with how to explain that Grandma B died. My daughter's actually been to a funeral before and remembered seeing "cousin Betty in the box" and the box going into the ground. We've talked about our beliefs on what happens after life ends. But the concept of permanence seems to escape her. After we visited the funeral home, she asked some interesting questions -- some so amusing they actually lightened the moment:
- Will she wake up when they close the box?
- Will she be scared in there? It's dark.
- Who put on her lip gloss?
- Will she wake up if I tickle her?
- After the funeral's over, can she go eat dinner with us?
Since then we've talked some more, and she even did some beautiful artwork in honor of Grandma B.
Why did I chose to bring her along and expose her to the details of death at such a young age? Children are naturally curious, and the things we shield them from are often the things they pursue or -- without adequate guidance -- fail to understand. As children, my mother and I both had frightening experiences with family friends who died. I'm hoping that by including my daughter early and making death a normal part of life, my daughter won't experience that fear.
What do the experts say? The National Network for Child Care says "most children are emotionally strong and want to know about death. The truth helps them understand what is real, and what is imaginary."
For small children: "Young children need to ask questions about the death again and again. They need to learn the facts about the death and to make certain the facts have not changed."
On attending memorial services: "Children need rituals. Participating in the funeral or memorial service helps make the death seem more real and encourages the healing that comes from mourning."
And on coming face-to-face with their loved one: "Viewing the body helps the child understand what death is and that their loved one is, in fact, dead. Few children later regret viewing the body; many regret not doing so."
Good advice on something we'll all face at one point or another.
News Mom T