Winning and losing. Living and dying. These are a part of life and offer such valuable lessons. Of course we will always choose the winning and living, but there is also losing and dying. Children have very limited understanding of the later. Our daughter was a preschooler when my Aunt Ruby passed away. She went with us to the funeral home for the visitation and then the funeral. She referred to them as the “dead body party” and the “dead body meeting.” There were lots of people and there were flowers, hugging and talking and later there was food. I can understand why it seemed like a party to her. The funeral service was sort of like a church meeting or worship service. She typically had to sit still and be quiet for church meetings just as she did for the funeral service. Funeral homes sort of seem like churches.
Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Yes, even children are capable and able and willing to do this. Except under special circumstances children should not be shielded from death. For most children their first exposure to death is a grandparent or a pet. Help them to learn from their own hurt to be sympathetic and empathic to others. Help your children find ways to express their own sorrow and be supportive of others in their sorrow. There are many things a child can do for others such as give a hug, make cookies, draw a picture or make a card. They undoubtedly will have other ideas which you can discuss and help them to decide on the most appropriate actions.
Most adults feel awkward at funerals and don’t know what to say to the sorrowing family. Saying the perfect thing is not really important. A warm two-handed handshake or a hug expresses much. The following are some helpful and simple thoughts which when said sincerely are meaningful. “Sorry for your loss.” “I care.” “I love you.” Of course you can also add a short antidote about the deceased or just a reference such as; “I will miss ________, too.” “They were a good (loving/faithful/inspirational) friend or boss or ____________.” “I am thankful for ____________ which (the deceased) taught me.”
Before taking your child along with you to attend a funeral or visitation be sure to talk with them about what to expect. Tell them there may be lots of hugging or crying. That is normal at such gatherings and it is okay. Let them know what is expected of their behavior. Discuss the things they may say or not say. Don’t force a child to get physically close to approach the casket or look upon the deceased if they are uncomfortable doing so.
Don’t try to explain death as sleeping because we all go to sleep every night. Do explain God’s plan for us to live in eternity with Him where there will be no crying or sorrow. If you need to know more about heaven, read Revelation chapters 21 and 22. I have been told that Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven is outstanding. Alcorn also has a Heaven for Kids edition.
Grief is a process. Everyone goes through that process at their own pace. Be patient with your children. You may have to ask your children to be patient with you. You cannot protect your children from experiencing grief, nor should you. It is a part of life and it is a part of growing up. There are hard and troublesome things in life but we can learn to love and support each other through them. Don’t forget the rejoicing with those who rejoice part of the scripture. Practice that too.