My brother died.
It was about a week after we had returned home from my brother’s funeral in Michigan when my son, Sam, found his fish dead. Tears were streaking down his sweet face as he ran into our bedroom to tell me Sam Jr. was dead. After my husband and I and our older son each offered Sam our condolences, our family made the decision to have a funeral for Sam Jr. My son, with a look of determination, said “We will have the funeral tonight after dinner. I need to decide whether I want a burial at sea or a traditional burial. I’ll think about it while I am at school today.”
As dinner approached that evening, Sam decided that a “burial at sea” (flushing Sam Jr. down the toilet) was the most appropriate burial for his fish since he would be “returning to the place he was born.”
We lit candles, dimmed the bathroom lights and listened to Sam tearfully tell stories of how he loved his fish and how much he was going to miss him. Then Sam scooped him up, gently placed him in the commode, said a prayer and flushed. That was it -Sam Jr. was gone from our lives forever.
As I held my crying son in my arms, I felt my own tears; partly from the active grief I was experiencing from my brother’s too recent death and partly from seeing my son grieve. Then he began to share with me words that sounded eerily familiar:
“Mom, I’m just going to miss him so much.”
“Mom, we read a book today in class and there was a part about a dead fish. I started to cry but I pulled it together.”
“Mom, I thought about Sam Jr. at recess today.”
“Mom, it’s going to be a while before I can talk about him and not cry.”
The words of babes! My son was repeating everything he had heard and seen our family do as we mourned and buried my brother. He was present throughout – for the visitation at the funeral home, the family meeting with the pastor, the funeral, the graveside services, the luncheon reception – and he was taking it all in, silently observing how his family grieves, how his family values ceremony, how his family begins a journey of healing.
If you know of a child or family going through the loss of a parent or sibling, I invite you to look at the amazing children’s grief resources put out by Sesame Street by clicking here.
To request a Children’s Grief Resource Packet (specially compiled by our staff) please contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Did you ever have a service for a pet member of the family?
How have children in your life processed loss?