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Parents Corner: Death in the Family

by / 0 Comments / 16 View / August 31, 2015

Sue Ellen Jackson

Dear Sue Ellen,
We are a very close knit family and my grandfather was just put on hospice.  They are saying he could die at any time.  I have a 3 year old son that is very attached to his great-grandfather.  Should I take my son to my grandfather’s funeral?  I know my family will want me to, but I think he is too little to understand what is going on.
Grieving Granddaughter

Dear Grieving Granddaughter,
I am sorry for your inevitable loss.  Death is a very strange but real part of life.  All families and cultures have different ways of dealing with it.  In the U.S. we traditionally wear black when we are in mourning; and in Haiti, they wear white. Some people believe in cremation and others are opposed to it.  At the end of the day, the person that died is still dead, unless you are Haitian and believe in Zombies.

In our culture, death is taboo.  We dress ourselves in ways that defy the aging process, (and the ultimate outcome therein).  When people die in hospitals, we wrap their bodies in sheets and secretly transport them to the basement for funeral directors to collect the remains… all very discreet and hush-hush.

If you are a Christian, you have hope of a future after death.  Honestly, I don’t know how people deal with death if they have no understanding of Heaven.  So…how does all of this impact our children?

As parents, we usually have 2 choices when we explain difficult things to our children.  We can either make up some fantasy to soften the hardness of the situation, or we can tell the truth at an intellectual level our children can comprehend, and then wait for their questions so we can answer them.  I highly recommend the latter.

Your little boy may not remember the death of his great-grandfather, but he will start learning how to deal with life’s ups and downs by the way you respond to the situation.  So how do you manage your grief and stress?  Do you get mad or upset and lash out at people?  Do you withdraw from everyone or do you talk about it?  Do you have healthy ways of being comforted, like listen to music, or pray?  Are you tolerant of others if they handle their grief differently from the way you do?

Taking your child to the funeral has to be your decision.  Keep in mind that the funeral is about the living, and is supposed to help people find some kind of closure for the life that has ended.  At three years old, I don’t think your son will understand the funeral, but he could be a little spark of joy for a family that is grieving. Or he might be traumatized by the screaming, crying and drama.  Whatever you decide, be at peace with it.

Please email your parenting questions to sejackson@awarecentraltexas.org and put “Parent’s Corner on the subject line.