Guidance on Explaining Death to Children
The death of a beloved community member inevitably spurs many questions, from adults as well as children and teenagers. Finding the answers is never easy when we are grieving, but as parents and teachers, it is one of the most important jobs we can do.
Very young children may just want to know the basics mechanics of what death means. They are literal thinkers and may get confused by terms such as “lost” or “passed away,” so though it might feel scary to say the “D” word, it will help in their understanding. It’s normal to want to shelter young children from hurt and pain, but don’t be afraid to show your feelings. Show them, too, how a community comes together in positive ways, by involving your child in making food, sending a card, or offering a prayer of love to those who are hurting.
Older children may be wondering more abstractly about the existence of a soul or afterlife, or if there is a god who makes bad things happen. They, and you, may wonder how and why such a bad thing could happen to one who was so good. Again, there are no easy answers; if there were, we wouldn’t be Unitarian Universalists. But this is a very appropriate time for you to share your own beliefs; “Nobody can be certain what comes after death, but I believe….” Hearing this from a role model can be very comforting in a confusing time.
Teens may be feeling shocked, angry, and unsettled. They may be afraid that something similar could happen to them or their parents. Be there to listen as best you can, and give them space if they need it. Carrying on with normal activity might seem daunting in the midst of sadness, but can also be reassuring that everything will be alright, and that things will feel normal again.
We can all try to look for the positives, like what an amazing thing it is to be a part of this loving community, and how grateful we are that Joan lived a life full of kindness and service. If we can carry on that loving spirit in service to others, then she will not have left us.
There are several excellent books available in my office and in the RE lounge for families to borrow, and if I can be of any help in any way, please do not hesitate to ask.
Blessed Be, Aoife