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There is no easy way to talk about the loss of a loved one, especially during the grieving period where emotions are fragile. What is important is to be honest and make your explanation straightforward so they fully understand what has happened. A clear understanding will eliminate the possibility of misunderstanding. This ensures the child will understand that the loss has nothing to do with their actions. Unnecessary guilt or anxiety over a death can manifest further confusion.
When discussing death, it is important to avoid phrases that can be misinterpreted like “gone away”, as these can lead the child to make assumptions that are untrue. It is important to be clear about the permanency of the loss. Permanency closes the door to future expectation and advances the grieving process.
A clear explanation of the death of a loved one can ensure the child has a clear understanding of the loss and can facilitate their road to acceptance.
Children may often appear to accept the loss well, however, this could simply be a means of dealing with the loss. The reality is that not dealing with the emotions now, keeps them locked up simply to be dealt with later.
Children should be encouraged to express their emotions about loss openly. They should be told that anger, sadness, frustration and confusion are normal and they can express their feelings with others. You can validate a child’s emotions by explaining that you, and others, are feeling the same emotions. That will prevent them feeling alone.
Bereaved children seek emotional support and guidance during grief and helping them deal with their emotions is of utmost importance.
Having an active role at a funeral can give children a feeling of contribution that they will hold as a fond memory. You could ask for their input into choosing a casket or what to say when writing a eulogy. You could include their memory of the deceased in a tribute.
If a child is at a level of maturity to attend the funeral and has not attended a funeral before, it is a good idea to explain what they will see and hear at a funeral or cremation. This should also include any other funeral services they may attend such as a wake and graveside ceremony. This ensures the child understands the funeral process beforehand. That way, they will not be confused or made uneasy by what is happening.
A child will experience many people at a funeral, each in varying states of emotion. They need to understand why those people are there, and that many of them are feeling extreme loss. They may also wish to meet and give condolences to the child and they should know that this is customary and how they can respond so they are not confused.
Before attending a wake/viewing, the child should know that the deceased’s body will be available for viewing (if the casket is open). This could be their last chance to look upon the deceased. This is important to avoid shock and so they may have their final face to face with the deceased.
Before attending the funeral service, the child should be made aware of the funeral process including the eulogy, prayers, songs and tributes that they may hear, plus, the transport of the casket. If there are any special customs, these and their significance should also be explained.
The graveside ceremony should be explained as the final resting place for the deceased and as a place where they can always be visited. The graveside ceremony can often be the most difficult part of the funeral process. You can use your best judgement of the child’s emotional status as to whether the child would be better not to attend this final part of the funeral service.
Explaining a cremation to a child can be more difficult than explaining the funeral process. One thing to highlight is that it is not painful to the deceased. This is usually the first thing children think about. Another important part of cremation is the use of an Urn. It can be comforting to the child to hear how an urn can hold your loved one permanently or until a time the ashes are spread. This acts much like a grave, acting as a place or keepsake to keep them connected with the deceased.
Sometimes it can simply be too much for anyone and it can help to have a backup plan. If a child is overwhelmed and unable to cope at a funeral service, take them away and change their focus for a while. Whether just taking a walk or getting an ice cream, they may need some time to clear their minds. This can rejuvenate them for the rest of the service.
Children should be encouraged to share happy memories of a deceased loved one and to commemorate them at family occasions. This promotes remembering their life and not their death. It helps show children that lost loved ones are not forgotten. Commemoration helps people feel a continued connection with the deceased and remembering the joy the deceased brought into their lives.
Another method a child can maintain a connection with their lost loved one, is via a keepsake. Whether a personal item owned by the deceased, or a commemorative keepsake acquired following the loss, this can help children feel close to the deceased.
A keepsake can be anything that reminds the child of their time with their deceased loved one. It can be an item of clothing, jewellery, a decoration, a piece of music, a book etc. You could have the child choose his/her own item or ask them what most reminds them of the deceased. No matter what you choose, every keepsake helps the child feel like they have maintained a link with the deceased.
For a time following a funeral, a family may still have visitors offering support and their sympathies. It can take some time for life to return to normal.
For adults and children alike, this can be the most difficult time. Remember to continue talking to the children about how they feel and that they can express themselves. They should understand that grieving takes time and they are not in it alone. At this time, they need your support and love most of all.
If you are concerned about how your child is coping with the loss of a loved one, don’t be afraid to seek some professional help. Grief counsellors can offer excellent additional support. Remember, you are going through this too and you should never be afraid to get some help to get you through this tragic time in your life and that of the child.
Although talking to children about bereavement can be difficult, the best method depends on their age and past experience of loss. If you need help talking to your children, contact Zentner Funeral Homes Ltd. Our professional funeral directors can help advise you on talking to your children about loss. For this, or any other funeral service needs, contact us 24/7.