I am passionate that we help children through grief and speak to children about grief in the best way possible. Sadly, the legacy of a culture which shut children away when someone died is still with us. Our experience shows that children need to be involved in age-appropriate ways, and they have a brilliant capacity to grieve and heal, as long as they are included. Each child is different, of course, but many conventions in our culture are simply manifestations of the old belief of keeping kids away during grief or funerals. Instead, we have often helped families find rich and meaningful ways for children to be included, from beautifully decorating the cardboard coffin lid, to writing tributes on sticky heart post-its to put on the coffin, to playing their Grandad’s favourite piece of music on a flute. We’ve heard a stunning poem written by a child for his dad’s funeral and we’ve seen strength and grace displayed by children amidst the healthy tears and sadness.
It’s not for us to say what must happen, but this article, written by a development director from a group which exists to help children who have lost parents and other family members, is full of rich advice about how we can use language more helpfully for children (and ourselves). This is a step-by-step guide to things that would be helpful to say and behaviour that would be helpful to demonstrate. And its not just for those during loss; there is wisdom here about how we can help children in a preemptive way by how we talk about nature and how bodies stop working.
But this quote sums up the tone: ‘To help a child grieve, be honest, open and – most importantly – celebrate the person’s life.’