There a several different “delicate” subjects which many parents dread approaching with their children. Death is one of these subjects.
As I write this, my grandmother is very, very ill. Today was a difficult day because in addition to dealing with my own grief, I realize that I must gently begin to prepare my children for the inevitable.
I pulled out the book that my mother had gotten for my sisters and I when my great-grandmother died all those years ago. The book is called Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs. It is written by Tomie de Paola. The book is geared towards elementary aged children, but I believe it could also be used to discuss the subject with slightly older children.
Death is not new for my children. We have had funerals for many pets in the backyard, complete with flowers, and other neighborhood children in attendance. I have even conducted bathroom services for dead fish before their “burial at sea”.
Our family has also had to deal with death in a very personal way. In 2006, I miscarried my firstborn son. Since the pregnancy had progressed into the second trimester, our son’s death was labeled a stillbirth according to the laws in our state and we buried our child in a local cemetery after giving him a proper funeral.
Helping my children to deal with their brother’s death was one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my entire life. It has been over 2 years since my son died, and our family still visits his grave on a regular basis. These trips have helped me to process my grief and I believe that they have also helped my children.
I have several friends who believe that children under a certain age should not be allowed to attend funerals because it is too stressful for them. I know other families who avoid the subject all together unless they absolutely have to deal with it. I respectfully disagree with both of these tactics. I believe that as parents, our job is to gently help our children to deal with the difficult things that life can throw at them. I feel that shielding them from the inevitable only makes it more fearful and stressful when they eventually have to deal with the avoided subject. I also believe that it is best to gently discuss a difficult topic as the topic occurs in conversation during the natural course of life. Giving kids a huge extended lecture on a certain subject because “it’s time” often backfires.
Whatever your thoughts on the subject, it is important to do what you personally feel is right for your family. It’s also important for kids to know that it’s ok to grieve and to feel sad after a loss and that you are there if they need to talk or ask questions.
Dealing with “delicate” subjects is never easy. But it can be and should be done nevertheless.