Gerrit, thank you for this article. Very thought provoking and relevant issue. Did you see the article on the farmworkers’ son asking at the coffin where his mom is? Heartbreaking.
Also, thank you for your reply to my question on your article. No, not having experienced the need to explain death to a child does not disqualify you from pondering, voicing an opinion or even giving advice. Your point on not scaring a child is taken to heart very seriously. Here is my response to your article.
Kids deal with death from a very young age, sadly death is part of life. Some kids have to deal more than others and at an even younger stage. Some kids are “lucky” and they only have to deal when they are older and they have had some experience with a pet dying. The child also takes very long to accept the finality of death; you are right there. For some children it takes years to accept that death is death and that the person is not coming back. The younger the child is, the longer this issue takes it seems. Or do older children just hide it better? They know that the person is not coming back and do they just refrain from asking this question too often? Charlie.vanbergen knew at age three that his father was not coming back. A child’s mind is a wonderful thing. We learn so much from them.
Your statement that children may not ask very deep questions; the five year old who wants to know where that person is ties in with “foisting” my own beliefs on a child for me. If I believe that there is an afterlife, how can I in all honesty tell the child that the person is lying in the cemetery? Or if there was a cremation that the ashes are in the urn? If I get comfort from the fact that there is a heaven, should I deny the child the same comfort? I still do not think that Bergie meant avoid the reality of the issue and only comfort the child. However; only Bergie could answer that question.
I actually believe that the child is asking if there is an afterlife. I have had that experience with a three year old and six year old. They wanted to know that as mommy has been lying in a ditch overnight; was she not cold? When I explained that because mommy was dead and her body did not feel anything anymore they wanted to know if they would ever see her again. Once again I had to explain that they would never see her body again. I thought they wanted to view the dead body. I also explained that they would always remember mommy and that she would live in their thoughts. They will be sad sometimes when they remember her and sometimes they will be happy. Once again they questioned, but what now? Where is mommy now? I explained that mommy was with the Lord and that she was fine. See, many questions from these babies.
Your point in scaring the poor child even more. I agree with that. This is not the time to discuss hell, unless they ask the question. And older kids do. A year later the dad in the story committed suicide. Sadly, he was the one who murdered the mom. Then the question of hell arose. There I had to admit that I did not know the answer at all. Fortunately, the girls did not ask me these questions; but my very much older kids did. ( I actually did not want to post this part; but it is quite relevant in my mind. Not looking for sympathy at all, these are facts only) We pondered the issue of hell and discussed reasons why he will or will not be there. We found solace in the fact that he might have been able to ask and receive forgiveness and been able to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour. We also mourned the fact that if he did not; his soul was forever lost and that we will not see him again. You see; after all he was my brother and I still loved him.
Getting to the point of my point (as Bob.Cee123 so desperately wants to know).
“ To sum up: Only answer questions when they are asked. Be open and honest and remember that your child is frightened enough as it is without being scared by sermons about how to avoid going to hell when they die.”
I agree with your last statement wholeheartedly. The kids are scared out of their minds, not only of dying themselves; but of what will happen to them now and what has happened to the departed one.
As for the first part: I cannot agree with that. There are more options in dealing with death and grief where children are concerned. Kids need to talk and verbalise, a fear shared is a fear halved and a verbalised fear does not look that scary at all. We need to ask open ended questions on their level, encourage them to talk and even open conversations ourselves. Without hell and damnation of course. Kids need the comfort and security that we as adults can offer.
We cannot lie to them, they smell a lie a mile away. Be honest and truthful, if you believe there is an afterlife say so; if you believe there is not, say so as well. If you need therapy, go get some, if you need a support group join one. If you need to rant and rave where the kids are not near, do that. All situations are unique and we all try to do the best we can.
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