Tough Questions From a 5 Year Old
We deal with a lot of sensitive subjects here at the funeral home. Death is a very sensitive subject in and of itself. One particularly sensitive subject with a lot of the families we talk to is that of children and death. More specifically, should children attend funerals and be included in the discussion about death? Should they see the deceased? Are we scarring them emotionally for life if we allow them to be a part of such a heavy situation?
I believe that kids should be a part of the funeral process. They have lost a loved one too. Kids pick up on our emotions, and they certainly have their own. They want to be part of what’s happening, and they deserve to be. I think we need to let them experience the loss from their own kid-perspective. I myself have two small children, one age 5, the other age 3. Lately the 5 year old has been very curious about my job and what I do. Up until now she has known that I “help people”, and that sometimes those people are very sad. Her own introduction to death was last summer when we had to put down the family dog. The vet came to our house where we were all gathered in the living room. Before the vet began the process, she asked me if the kids were going to be present. Without hesitation I replied, of course. It was sad, and they cried (so did I!), but it didn’t give them nightmares or cause panic. If anything, it opened up a conversation between us that didn’t exist before. Admittedly, it is easier for me to talk about death, as I have an education in death, dying and bereavement and work in a funeral home! However, I was recently put to the test when I was tucking my 5 year old in bed and she asked me flat out, “What happens to our bodies when we die?”
I could tell she wanted a complete answer.
She’s a bright young lady, who am I to stand in the way of her quest for knowledge? So we talked about death from a scientific perspective. Then she asked me what funerals are and what happens at them. It was a long conversation, and she probably should have been sleeping already, but it was important to both of us that we discussed the matter in full.
The reality is that one day someone we love is going to die. Death is a fact of life. If we don’t give our children any tools to wrap their heads (and hearts) around death, it will be a disaster when they are faced with it. When my girls ask me questions about death and dying, I will answer honestly, hard as it may be. I know we want to protect our children from harm, and would do anything to prevent them from being sad, but I think we do more harm by sheltering them from the truth. It’s okay to be sad sometimes, it’s part of the journey.