I was recently browsing through the new gift shop at Mission San Juan Capistrano, admiring the jewelry and slowly making my way to my favorite corner of the store; the book section on Grief. I’m always finding new and intriguing titles there and this time, I stumbled upon a series of children’s books on grief that deeply impressed me.
We hear the debate about children being at funerals pretty often around here and while we always encourage people to bring their children, they don’t always agree with us. Well, to my surprise, in the book What Happens When Someone Dies? the question is never even addressed, it is just automatically assumed that children will be there and explains with a delicate, gentle and uncomplicated voice what the child will experience.
Let me give you an example:
Under the question, What should I Say or Do at the Funeral Home? the author writes,
“At the funeral home, people talk about what they remember about the person who died. They talk about nice and sometimes funny times they had with the person. You may hear laughter as they remember happy times.
If you walk up to the casket, take your mom or dad’s hand. We all need each other – especially in sad times. Sometimes the casket is up too high for you to see. Ask someone to help you up.”
I don’t know about you but reading that made me feel better. The explanations are simple but address the hard stuff and don’t shy away from it.
I remember being told when it comes to children to only answer the questions they ask you. You don’t explain the complexities of life and death to your 5 year old when they’ve only asked you why you’re sad. Your answer may lead to more questions and that’s ok, but sometimes children can feel overwhelmed by information that they can’t process or understand. This book is an excellent resource. If you don’t want to read the whole book to them you can still reference this book to help you answer their questions in your own way.
What Happens When Someone Dies? addresses some tough questions like:
*These books do have a religious overtones referencing Heaven, God and prayer. I don’t feel they are heavy-hitting but these books may not be appropriate in their entirety for particular faiths.
I continue to be surprised by families who disagree with our funeral arrangers who see day-in and day-out the power of ceremony and how children react and benefit. Our arrangers are experts who can testify endlessly to the power of being included and present at a funeral; but too often a family’s fears and sense of protection keep children from experiencing a ceremony that would actually bring them even greater peace.
A recent article entitled, “Should Children Attend Funerals?” states that despite public opinion, “child bereavement experts are united in believing that children should be offered the chance to attend funerals, regardless of how young they are.” The article goes on to quote one of these experts, Helen McKinnon, who says, “I’ve never yet come across anyone who regrets going to a funeral as a child. But what we do hear time and time again is those who wish they had gone and in many of those cases, it’s prevented them from starting on their grieving journey.”
This same article quotes Christina Brady who had to attend school the same day as her mother’s funeral. She asks the powerful question: “… if adults need a ritual to mark the passing of someone dear to them, doesn’t it follow that children – who are less able than anyone to make sense of the mess of feelings that follow a death – need it even more?”
The answer seems simple: Yes, they do.
There are two messages – this book offers one of understanding, acceptance, and compassion. The other only perpetuates the great fear and avoidance of death our culture has adopted. Let’s give our children the right message.
– Where do you stand in this debate and why?
– What answers were you given as a child when you asked about death and how did they help or hinder your understanding?
Other books on tough subjects available in this thoughtful series are: