I recently lost my grandmother and my aunt about a month apart from each other. Both losses were expected, so I was prepared, but I wasn’t prepared to explain death to my children. My 15 month old I didn’t need to explain anything to, he isn’t at an age where he would understand or even comprehend any aspect of death. My 2.5 year old was curious about what was happening and needed some explanation.
The age of the child will help determine what kind of information and how much information they need. Children can be quite literal and need a literal explanation. For younger children simply saying the person’s body stopped working can be sufficient. You want to avoid saying the person went away or went to sleep as this can cause fear in children. They could become fearful about you going to sleep or about themselves going to sleep. As children get older be honest and clear about what has happened.
Your Own Grief
Let your children see you grieve. It is important to teach children that crying is ok and that being sad is a normal part of the grieving process. Share with your children how you are feeling and why you feel they way you do. Seeing you grieve can help children be more comfortable in sharing their own feelings and emotions.
It is up to you and your child whether they attend the funeral or not. It should not be forced upon your child. Explain what will happen at the funeral. You could say the person who has died will be in the casket, and because their body has stopped working, they won’t be moving, talking or hearing. If the body has been cremated, you can say that the body has been turned to a dusty particle. The child does not need to know that the body was burned. Explain that people may be crying or talking about the deceased. Encourage your child to ask questions they may have.
Support for Yourself and Your Family
Some other helpful resources are:
- Bereaved Families of Ontario,
- your local funeral home,
- your local hospice may offer bereavement support groups.