Help for Children Who Grieve
It is certainly not easy to break the news to an adult about the death of a loved one. But imagine having to tell a child.
FOR many children the experience of losing a family member or friend can be confusing—even frightening. Helping a child through this period presents a challenge, especially for grief-stricken parents. After all, they too need emotional support.
Some parents try to soften the blow by telling the child that the deceased one has left them or gone away. However, such expressions are misleading and deceptive. How, then, can you talk to a child about death?
Renato and Isabelle faced such a challenge. When their three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Nicolle, died, they had to help their son, Felipe, who was five years old at the time, to cope with the loss.
Awake!: How did you explain Nicolle’s death to Felipe?
Isabelle: We sought to be honest and entirely open about it. We encouraged him to ask questions, and we always tried to answer them in terms a child his age could understand. Nicolle died from a bacterial infection, so we told him that a little bug had got into her body and the doctors had not been able to kill it.
Awake!: Did you share your religious beliefs about death with Felipe?
Renato: We are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and we knew that talking about our Bible-based beliefs regarding death would comfort Felipe. The Bible is very clear—it teaches that the dead are unconscious. (Ecclesiastes 9:5) We reasoned that if we discussed this with Felipe, it would dispel any fears he might have—for example, about being left alone at night.
Isabelle: The Bible also teaches that those who have died will be resurrected on a paradise earth. We believe that, and we felt that our belief would help Felipe too. So we talked to him about what the Bible teaches. We talked about the Bible account of Jesus’ resurrecting Jairus’ 12-year-old daughter. Then we explained to Felipe that Nicolle would also be resurrected. This is what the Bible teaches.—Mark 5:22-24, 35-42; John 5:28, 29.
Awake!: Do you think Felipe could grasp all that information?
Renato: Yes, we believe he could. Children deal best with death when given accurate, simple, clear, honest explanations. There is no need to be secretive about it. Death is a reality. Unfortunately, it is still part of our experience. So parents need to teach their children how to deal with death, as we also did later with our younger son Vinicius.*
Awake!: Did you take Felipe to the funeral?
Renato: After weighing the advantages and disadvantages, we decided not to take him along. At his age children are highly impressionable. Of course, some parents may decide to take their child, and each child is different as far as what he or she can handle. If a child is taken to a funeral, it would be good to tell him or her exactly what to expect.
Awake!: Nicolle’s death must have been a distressing time for you. Were you concerned about letting your son see you cry?
Isabelle: We never tried to hide our feelings from Felipe. If Jesus himself “gave way to tears” at the death of a loved one, why shouldn’t we as well? (John 11:35, 36) And why shouldn’t Felipe see us crying? Openly showing our grief made it clear to Felipe that breaking down in tears is not wrong. It’s just a way to express emotions. We wanted Felipe to feel that he could express his feelings too, rather than bottle them up.
Renato: When tragedy strikes the family, children tend to feel insecure. So if we as parents are open and honest about our feelings, the children will be open too. After listening carefully to what’s troubling them, we are in a position to reassure them and ease their fears.
Awake!: Did you get any help from others?
Renato: Yes, we received tremendous support from members of our congregation. With all the visits, phone calls, and cards we received, Felipe could see how much they loved and cared for us.
Isabelle: Our family members were also very helpful. After Nicolle’s death, my father decided to come over every morning to have breakfast with us. It was a gesture of his loving support. And having his grandfather beside him gave Felipe a lift.
Renato: The spiritual encouragement we got at Christian meetings was invaluable. We made an effort not to miss meetings, even though at times we could not hold back the tears. You see, being at Christian meetings brought back many memories of Nicolle. But we knew we had to be strong, especially for Felipe’s sake.
For more information, see the article “Help Your Child Cope With Grief,” on pages 18-20 of the July 1, 2008, issue of The Watchtower, and the brochure When Someone You Love Dies, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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The books listed below, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses, can comfort those who have lost a loved one in death.
What Does the Bible Really Teach?
Chapter 6: Where Are the Dead?
Chapter 7: Real Hope for Your Loved Ones Who Have Died
FOR YOUNG CHILDREN:
My Book of Bible Stories
Story 92: Jesus Raises the Dead
Learn From the Great Teacher
Chapter 34: What Will Happen if We Die?
Chapter 35: We Can Wake Up From Death!
Chapter 36: Who Will Be Resurrected? Where Will They Live?
Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work, Volume 1
Chapter 16: Is It Normal to Grieve the Way I Do?
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HOW TO HELP
● Encourage questions. Create an atmosphere that will allow your child to talk about death and its meaning.
● Avoid using vague, abstract phrases—for instance, saying that the deceased “left us” or “went away.”
● Explain death in simple, literal terms. Some simply say that the loved one’s body “stopped working” and “could not be fixed.”
● Tell the child what to expect at the funeral; explain that the deceased will not be able to see or hear what is happening.
● Do not hide your emotions. In this way your child will see that it is natural to grieve.
● Remember, there is no “correct” way to grieve. Each child—and each circumstance—is different.
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Clockwise from left: Felipe, Renato, Isabelle, and Vinicius