You may not agree with me but children are mostly ignored when it comes to grief matters. This is partly because we imagine that they don’t fully grasp the magnitude of death, but mainly because of our own anxiety. By feeling the pains of losing a loved one, you imagine that telling a child about it will generate exactly the same feelings as yours. It is not really the same.
Most of the ways in which we deny children from grieving include the following: preventing them from viewing bodies, fearing to talk about the death and rather propagating lies, telling them they cannot understand, sending them away when a loved one dies at their home, and so on. All these are indicators of denying children their right to grieve.
Let them know…
So what do we do with children at such times? Actually, the first things is to let them know what has happened immediately a loved one dies. If they ask what death is, explain to them in simple terms, such as how pets, chicken, flowers, etc., die. Tell them also the difference between a dead and a living person and let them know that death means going forever. If it is body viewing, let them know what they are going to see. Let them know the body in the coffin is dead and it is only set to be buried or cremated depending on your culture.
Note: If some bodies have not been prepared well, it would be wise not to allow them to view. For example, some bodies may exhibit the horror of death especially if it was an accident. It therefore remains at your discretion to decide when and when not to view).
Apart from, talking to the children and explaining death, viewing bodies and so on, it would also be wise to explain the meaning of the different rituals that accompany funerals. For example, you can tell them that flowers are a sign of saying goodbye in a nice way, the purpose of graves where the dead are buried, the wearing of dark clothes, etc.
Grieve in honesty
Finally, do not hide your grief from children. If you feel like crying before your children, do not be ashamed, it is normal. You can explain to them later why people behave that way because that teaches them honesty in expressing their feelings. If you cannot express how you feel in front of your children, there is a likeliness of you preventing them from grieving by shutting them up when they cry.
Granting children the right to grieve entails nothing more than letting them understand what grief entails and letting them be who they are.
Reflect: What was the last time you lost a loved one? What did you do then?
“Remember children will also be adults like you, and all you tell them shall be impressed in their minds: Be honest and truthful even in the pains of death.”