When we first learn that this world is not an immortal reality, it begs questions from us about what comes next. Do you remember your first encounter with death?
I recalled my siblings had a zoomed picture of my mother when she was in the coffin. My mother died because of rabies from stray cat bite. How creepy it was for my young mind to fully appreciate why a need to kept that piece of memory. Another memory that I had was when my uncle died (my father’s brother), the elders gathered my cousins and I and lifting us over the casket before the entombment.
How Your Child May React to Death
Our three-year-old daughter, Abigail was playing with her Lego blocks when I shared to her the passing of my sisters-in-law’s sister few weeks ago because of breast cancer. When I told her that somebody died, that Ate Nica’s Aunt died (Nica is Abigail’s cousin) she looked at me with teary eyes, and throw a piece of Lego block from her hand and she said, NO!
Our daughter is a joyful young lady as the meaning of her name is “fountain of joy”. But as we observed her, she easily gets affected and becomes emotional whenever she sees people crying and is easily get sad whenever she is hearing something about death from movies.
The reason why I shared the sudden news to her was because that day we were visiting the funeral service, and she was coming needing to come with us.
It is a practice in our family to always inform our daughter of our current family situation and schedules whether going to a doctor’s appointment, meeting friends, and even travelling. The primary reasons are to engage, to train her character, and to prepare her to envision what kind of situation we will be facing as a family so she may know our expectation.
Words that Console
Abigail didn’t have any close relationship with the person who died. She didn’t even meet her face to face when this woman was still alive and well. But when I saw her reaction (the throwing of piece of Lego block, and teary eyes) in my heart I knew immediately that was the appointed moment, an open opportunity to talk to her about death and hope in Jesus.
When Joshua had one psychotic episode, I never sugar coat our situations to our daughter. I looked her directly in her eyes, and told her that Daddy needs to go to the doctor, and that she needs to stay with Papa (my father) because mommy needs to be with Daddy to see a doctor for Daddy to get well. Though she became sad for a moment that she wasn’t be with us at the doctor, my explanation of our current situation was truthful and left her an assurance of hope. That Daddy and Mommy will become more better parents for her and that we love her so much. That Jesus loves our family. I believe that the time we invested to our daughter since the day she was conceived and all our loving and teaching moment made her become confident in our words.
So, let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. -Galatians 6:9 NLT
I immediately told Abigail that death is natural, it will happen to everybody. In my words to her, I told her that her cousin’s aunt died. That her physical body died, but her spirit is with Jesus in Heaven. That when she was alive, she trusted Jesus.
My niece, told me how her aunt accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior, and last year, when she was still well and recuperating from cancer, I had the opportunity to talked with her over the phone, and from her story, I heard how she gladly found her hope in Jesus, and how her faith to Him sustained and strengthened her during her trying times.
When we arrived at the funeral, the coffin was open. Though we didn’t have a closer look at it, we had a good glance of the body from the corner where we were seated. We had a good opportunity to explain more to Abigail about what she was witnessing. She uttered numerous time, “Ate Nica’s aunt died!” And correctly addressed what she was noticing. When she said, “Ate Nica’s aunt is sleeping.” We simply and directly explained that, yes, she is dead.
The question of is it okay for a child mostly a toddler to attend a funeral service when a loved one dies? Well I believe each child is unique and different. They have their own way of coping behavior and characters to project. In what we experienced with our daughter, communicating thoroughly with her our family’s plans and what Joshua and I agreed together works best for her. Her being on the same page as we are allowing her to envision the same blueprint we are looking at as her parents. It helps us too to focus on our agreed purpose and enjoy it with the same pace as she is.
For example, at the funeral there were also some kids that wanting to play with Abigail, and likewise with her. But since we clearly communicate with our daughter the purpose why we were there at the funeral, by God’s grace she patiently waited until the funeral practices of the family of the deceased ended. Afterwards, she met those kids.
Use Scripture, and Reaffirmation of Spiritual Truth
There is a story from Abigail’s My Treasured Bible that she always wanted me to read with her. It’s a story about four faithful friends who brought their lame man friend to Jesus and its entitled “Through the Roof to Jesus – (Mark 2:1-12)
One-day Jesus was inside a house filled with people. A lame man had four friends that wanted to bring him to Jesus so he could be healed. But it was impossible for them to bring their friend close to Jesus. Instead, they climbed up on the roof and made a hole in it. Then they lowered their lame friend down right in front of Jesus. He looked at the man and said, “Stand up! Take your stretcher and go home.” The lame man was healed, and he stood up and went home with his friends.
The story speaks how the faith and perseverance of the people that surrounded the lame man helped him to encountered Jesus, and how the four-friend’s faith influenced the situation of the man with a dead body for he was paralyzed for him to be forgiven to his sins and be healed by Jesus.
It gives me encouragement whenever we heard Abigail uttering the line, “Get up, pick up your stretcher and go home.” Just like the four friends, it’s equally important for us as her parents for her to have her own personal encounter with Jesus daily even in her young age, and it’s essential how she will deal with death and for us to teach the truth about death and life in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
There were times that she was waking up from bed, crying and being afraid. Our encouragement for her is to remember this, “whenever I am afraid, I will put my trust in Jesus.”
I have cited here from BSF Home Training Lesson 15 some elements of truth that we can remember in talking to children about death:
- There is sadness at death.
- An explanation is given of the physical death.
- The aspect of eternity is reinforced.
- Confidence in God is expressed.
- Loving memories are encouraged so it does not seem we are forgetting all the loved one’s life meant to us.