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Title: Are We Robbing Our children of Life?
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Rank:Diamond Member

Score: 5631
Posts: 5631
From: USA
Registered: 11/21/2008

(Date Posted:02/17/2009 08:02 AM)
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Are We Robbing Our children of Life?

Recently my sister and I had a long conversation about funerals. An uncle had died and she had called to tell me how the viewing, ceremony and internment had gone. We reminisced on funerals from our childhood. Now while this may seem very ghoulish, it was actually a conversation that left us laughing.

Twenty plus years ago it was unthinkable not to bring your child to a local family funeral. In general all funerals were held at the same funeral home, the family was known by the home staff and the viewings could be one sometimes two days depending on how far other family members were traveling. While family and friends sat and shared memories, stories and anecdotes about the deceased, every small walking child was up and about running in and out of the group. If the home was only holding one viewing on the particular evening, then the additional viewing room became a playground for hide and seek, tag and just running till one fell down. This was a time that the children were able to see cousins they rarely if ever saw, aunts and uncles, new babies and spouses. The casket room, if it could be snuck into, was an excellent place to terrify each other with Dracula tales.

We all knew why we were there. We understood an elderly relative had passed. We were led in to view the deceased lying in their casket, looking to children as if they were sleeping. The entire passing was explained and accepted by all of us. We understood clearly that death was in fact, a part of life. It was accepted, a few tears would be shed, goodbyes were said, then for us children, life would go on.

Traditionally the entire family and all close friends would gather at whosever home was largest and sit and catch up on family news, gossip and life. The young wives and older daughters were in charge of laying out the many pounds of food which had been brought by family, friends, neighbors, former co-workers etc. Sweet ice tea and hot coffee was drunk by the gallon, someone had always supplied a 50 cup coffee maker, usually the funeral home. During these times as well, all the children would be outdoors in the warmer months, or indoors if cold, running and playing and raising the roof with peals of childish laughter. We were never told to be quiet. Never told we were being disrespectful. We were just living, loving and laughing like children will.

The actual funeral was a time to be quiet. We knew that. We sat with our parents or grandparents and listened to the people tell funny or serious stories about the deceased. We stood when it was over and solemnly followed the others out. At the graveside, we listened as sacred words were spoken to let the God/Goddess know the deceased was on their way, for some to heaven, for my family, to the Summerland. We stood or sat again respectfully, threw in our handful of dirt or a flower and watched as the casket was lowered into the ground then covered with the earth. At this point, the adults would again start communing, usually walking about the cemetery and paying their respects to others who had passed before. Sometimes laying flowers from the funeral on other family members graves. The children were free to run and play hide and seek amongst the gravestones. The cemetery was filled with the sounds of childish screeches and laughter. We knew that there were people buried beneath where we were playing. We understood where we were. We also knew they were not truly there anymore, but had gone on to where their deity took them. It was simply a part of life and a part we accepted without a lot of questioning. It just was, it could not be changed, so acceptance was the only option.

In these modern times, when so many are choosing to forego funeral services due to expense or personal choice, it is rare for one to see children of any age at the viewing, service or internment. When plans are made to attend, and I ask if another is bringing their children, I am so often met with shock and anger. Parents today do not wish to expose their children to death. They feel it is cruel or heartless.

So it comes that so many children today are traumatized by their first experience with death. They feel abandoned and hurt. They are angry and confused. Parents are putting their children in therapy to deal with these emotions. The child sees death as an unexpected traumatic end, not as the way things are. So many today fear death and fight against it constantly. Why? Because they were never able to be taught and shown that death, while not a happy event, is just the next step in life. They have never had the chance to experience death in a loving and family environment. They have not been given the choice of a child to accept it.

Are we robbing our children of a happy and full life by not allowing them to see all aspects of it? I say yes. I say that in not exposing your children to death as children, they are not able to take the right of childlike acceptance of death, well explained as a part of life. They are not able to see that after death, life goes on for the rest. They are not given the chance to live the fullest life they can. Why? Because they live with a misunderstanding and fear of death.

So what is the answer? Well there are many. Take your child or children with you to funerals, at least to the viewing. Allow them an opportunity to see and say goodbye. By all means if they lose a playmate, let them go to the funeral or service to say goodbye. Bring them to see relatives or friends who are terminally ill. Do not steal their last chance to say goodbye or give that one last hug. If you can arrange it, take your child to the funeral home early. They will be less intimidated if there are not a lot of people milling about. Another suggestion is to arrange a visit to the funeral home just to see what it looks like. Take them through the viewing rooms and chapel, allow them to see the coffin displays. This will keep the home from being a strange and scary place. Let them come with you if you go to the cemetery to place flowers. Let them see the cemetery as a place for those who are still alive, by explaining that death was just the next step.

While all of these suggestions may sound cruel, they are not. Children have the uncanny ability to accept reality unquestioned. What they learn to accept in childhood carries through as a given into adulthood. Yes they may question death as they grow older, but they will not be traumatized by it. The underlying acceptance from childhood will always overcome.

Explaining to your child about death may seem very difficult to you. You must plan your words ahead of time and be prepared for a myriad of childish questions. Never fool yourself that your child does not already have a preconceived notion of death. They have seen dead animals on the road, insects, birds and other creatures. Ask them before you begin with your explanation, what they think death means. Use what is available and well known to help you in your explanation with small children. Use their favorite movies or books where death is involved as a reference. Let them associate themselves with that acceptance they have seen or read about.

Keep death in simple terms, explain that the deceased is gone, no, they will not be back. They will no longer eat, sleep, breathe or be able to do all the things they did while alive.

Cremation can be difficult to explain to children. One of the most important things to remember is to avoid using the word burned. Children understand fire and hot. An easy explanation is that the deceased did not wish to be buried in the earth. That since their spirit had left their body, they no longer needed the body. The body was placed in a very hot room and it turned into ashes which were then put into the urn. If you can, show them the urn or if they were given, the small ash holders. Explain to them completely that the deceased’s spirit is gone. Children can become very afraid of urns or the rooms they may be in if they feel the person is in there. Most important is to make sure it is explained and understood.

What I found worked best with my own three children was to sit them down with me on the couch or in the floor. I told them that I had something to talk about with them. I then went on with my explanation of who had passed. What had caused them to die. Where they were now. Then to explain we were going to say goodbye to their earthly body. In response to the question “why” I simply explained that this was just the next step in the way of life. The questions came like bullets; “Will we see their spirit?”, “Can they still talk to us?”, “Are they a ghost now?”, “Do they look like the mummy guy?”, “Are you going to die?”, “When are you going to die?”, “Are we going to die?” and so on. I answered each one with the truth. In the end we sat for a bit and shared a funny memory of a time we had spent with the deceased. All in all they were prepared and well behaved for the viewing, service and internment.

If you do not feel you can effectively explain death to your child or children, then arrange a meeting with your spiritual leader for all of you. Let your leader explain life and death to you all.
We cannot control death, we may expect it, be prepared for it, but it is still something of a shock much of the time. If a child has experienced the death of a distant relative, family friend or even a pet ahead of time, when it is a close relative, they will be less traumatized than they would if they were not prepared.

Your child will grieve, however it will not be in the fashion of an adult. They may reenact death in their playtime with monsters being the culprit. They may be worried death is contagious like the chicken pox. It is normal for a child to question death and make it a grisly horror experience. Be prepared to answer questions sometimes days, weeks or even months after the actual death. Children take their own time to work through their thoughts and feelings. The time for concern is when you see a dramatic change in the child’s behavior. A drop in grades, avoidance of friends for a continued length of time, withdrawal from family. If this occurs, sit down with your child and discuss what they are feeling. Do not be surprised if they feel guilty. They may have been angry with the deceased at one time and feel that their anger is what caused the death. Talk to your child and relieve their fears and anxieties. Explain to them that anger, wishes, and the like do not cause death. Explain the cause of the deceased’s death if you think it will help. The important thing is to help your child work through these feelings on an open and healthy level.

Allowing a child to experience death is not a punishment, it is a gift of life! Are we, the adults so superior to withhold the natural process of life from our children? No we are not. It is immoral to let one’s fear or revulsion of death be carried on by another generation. The continuing of such emotion is mentally and spiritually detrimental to the well being of the child. In opening this up to your child, it may be that you find yourself more accepting of death as well. A healing of both mind and soul.
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