A final note
We cant protect children from lifes tragedies, but we can ease their journey by responding openly to their questions.
Encouraging a childs questions about death is essential in developing an understanding of the childs grief process. Too often children are given the message not to speak of their loved one, not to express their feelings, and not to ask questions. Adults often prescribe quick fixes and remedies based on the myths and cliches that they were raised with. Many girls and boys are told to be strong, be brave, and be the man or woman of the house. Or they are told that boys dont cry and children are too young to understand.
Yet, few children in this new millennium are exempt from issues concerning death. Issues ranging from the death of a parent to the loss of a pet can disrupt and confuse a childs emotional and physical stability. Many children experience fear, isolation, and loneliness after a death. Their new world seems to have no future, no protection, and no role models.
Girls and boys commonly and naturally assume that the world of grown-ups will care for them, support them, and nurture them. When Grandma has a sudden, fatal heart attack, Mom is killed in a car crash, Dad dies of suicide, sister Mary overdoses on drugs, or brother Thomas is fatally wounded in the military, a childs world is shattered. Often their only question is, How could this have happened to me?
Parents, teachers, and other caring adults need to be prepared to respond to childrens questions. Grieving children in todays world are becoming a larger and larger growing segment of our youth and their grief issues arise at younger and younger ages. In the past, parents may have been advised to exclude children from memorializing and not to speak of death or their person that died.
In todays world it is not only important to include children - it is mandatory. Repression around difficult feelings involving death can lead to low self-esteem and depression, or projected anger and destructive behavior. We must assist our children in communicating on this delicate topic of death. Open and comfortable sharing with young people allows free expression of the natural flow of their grief process and ensures a safe haven of respect and honesty.
APPENDIX 1. A checklist for children
Know the facts about your persons death.
Create a list of important questions to be answered.
Be prepared for the funeral. Decide if you want to go.
Participate in commemorating your person.
Find three people you can really talk to about your thoughts and feelings.
Use a memory book. Include pictures of your person and important memories.
Design a memory box. Decorate it with pictures or words that tell about your person. Put something special of theirs inside.
Invent a memory project. You can put together a pillow from Dads shirt or think of an original poem or song.
Make a memory mural or video to share memories of you and your person.
Keep a safe box in your room with pictures and toys that make you feel good.
Have a memory table. This is a place where everyone can leave something special that reminds them of their person who died to share with others.
Have a picture of you and your person, or draw one of a favorite memory.
Have a locked diary. Your feelings and thoughts can be safely stored.
Write down your everyday ideas in a journal.
List your top five worries. Then tell someone about them.
Know what is normal for grieving children.
Read stories that help you with your grief.
Perform a ritual for your person. You can light a candle, plant a flower, blow bubbles, say a prayer, or send off a balloon.
Tell your teachers you are grieving. Find a class buddy to help you during your time of grief
Talk about your person if you want. That is OK.
Go to a place where you feel you can be with your person.
Be with good friends. Continue to play and have fun.
Remember death is a natural part of life. Its OK to talk about it and that may help you feel better.