Do you have a child in your life that has asked questions about death and dying?
Do you have someone you talk to about such topics?
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When children ask questions about death and dying and we aren’t always sure what answers to give.
It is important that first we understand the question, and second, that we give an honest and age-appropriate answer. The question a friend of mine recently received began a conversation that went like this:
“When Grandma died in the hospital, where did her body go?”
“What do you mean? Do you mean her soul or her physical body or something else?”
This is a clarifying question to make sure we are hearing the child and understanding their intention. Sometimes as adults, we may interpret what they say very differently and answer the wrong question that can scare or confuse them.
“Like, she died there and then we had the funeral and her body was in a vase.”
This question came from a 14 year old. She is sophisticated enough to understand that her grandmother’s body was cremated. A younger child may not know this, or they may see their grandparent’s body in an open casket ceremony and know they are dead, but not fully grasp it. It is important to know HOW to answer the questions.
“Well, it was her ashes in the vase, and they were placed there after she was cremated.”
The discussion went more into the process of cremation and how it is an alternative to burial. In this situation, the conversation could have become religious, spiritual or metaphysical, when the child didn’t want that answer, and it could leave the youth confused and frustrated. The conversation could have also gone grotesque towards the physical breakdown of the body through nature’s process. This too is not what the child was looking for. That’s why understanding the question is so important.
This teen was able to do a bit more research about the transition her grandmother’s physical body went through after death, meaning the process by which grandma’s body traveled from the hospital bed to the funeral home. It is important to know that understanding these things will help a child process death and grieving.
When answering a question by a child about death or dying, being open and willing to talk about the loved one and share stories are important. Don’t feel like you need to know everything, instead use resources, such as the internet, a funeral director, a hospice worker, a member or clergy or spiritual leader, or even a friend.