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Reflecting on the questions.
Is there an age a which a child should be exposed to the ritual of a funeral? I think if the child is asking to go, they should be allowed to go – no matter the age. I would also say though especially if a first funeral and no matter the age of a child, there should be conversations before about what to expect. I am fully aware that my answer is influenced by my own experience growing up as a pastors kid in a small town church where I attended many funerals. So when my father in law died right before our daughters first birthday it was a no brainer to bring her along to the funeral with my mom ready to take her back to the nursery if she got restless. On the other side I would also say if the child is clear about not wanting to go to the funeral, they should not be forced to go.
How can we acknowledge children’s anxiety and minister to them at the funeral or the funeral home? I think making sure we make time to include the children in the conversations prior to this point is important. Give them a safe place and time to ask any questions they want to. I also think it is important for us to help the kids caregivers and the kids themselves have an exit plan so to speak for the kids if being at the funeral becomes too much.
What role do funeral directors have in easing the shock at taking one last look? I think this again is where conversations prior to the funeral are important. Funeral directors can ask the children – do you have any questions about what you might see if you choose to look at the body? The funeral director is the “expert” here in many ways and I think it is important that they help make it clear that it is the child/adolescent’s choice and that there is no right or wrong choice. I am of the opinion that a good verbal explanation that is simple and clear can help reduce the shock of what will be seen. I use the same approach when working with parents who have children that want to come in and see their loved one before we remove lifesupport.
Words or phrases I use: I think being a parent who has had to navigate death and dying with my own child and chaplain here helps. I use the phrase “big feelings” a lot when talking about feelings surrounding grief. I am clear to use the term death and died, I never use anything that equates death to going to sleep. I will also tell them it’s ok to not know what they are feeling, that it can feel all mixed up sometimes. I will often ask my kiddo if she needs me to help provide feeling words and she can tell me what fits with what she is feeling.
Just some thought to start off.