When a child asks an adult questions about loss, death or grief, consider these
* What is the child really asking? Watch your child
as you explain and you may be able to tell if you are on target. Ask the child more questions if you need to find out what
he wants to know.
* Ask, "To whom is this child listening?"
Adults in children's lives are all likely to share their own definitions and explanations. Many may not be in sync with
yours. Share what you believe and go from there and let the child share as well.
* Make is safe for a child to ask about death, dying and grief.
* Tell the child the truth.
* Answer again and
again and then again. Be patient.
* Work on your own definitions.
It is okay to say, "I don't know but will find out for you."
Be surprisable. Be open to being confronted by the wisdom of a child.
Some common words and some definitions:
Casket or Coffin: The
special box in which the dead person's body is placed before it is buried.
Most are made of fine wood or metal. There is even a pillow for the head, even though the person inside cannot
feel it. Coffins are a type of casket with six sides and is shaped more like the body than a casket is. Coffins are used more
in other countries than in the United States. Families can choose to have an open or closed casket at the funeral. With an
open casket, people can see the body of the person who died. With a closed casket, the body cannot be seen because the lid
is shut. Caskets are often shut when the person has died in a bad wreck or has been sick for so long that the body is damaged.
When a person's body no longer works, that person is dead. All that is left is the body. The life in that person:
the feelings- tasting, moving, eating, going to the bathroom, the thinking and talking, the laughter, the tears - are gone.
The body is like a peanut shell with no peanut, or an egg shell with no egg inside. Sometimes adults say "passed
away" or "passed", "gone". But remember, dead is dead. It is not like we passed a test or are gone
from a room. We may think of a cell phone as dead to mean not working now, but will soon. However this person will not come
to life again. Sometimes it is hard to believe that a person is dead, especially if we loved them.
"Dead means that someone has died and their body stopped working. The heart stops
beating and breathing stops. The brain doesn't send or receive messages. She no longer can see, hear, touch, taste, smell,
eat, play, feel or think. She cannot move. Some dead may look asleep, but she isn't sleeping and she can't wake
up." (excerpt from When Dinosaurs Die, by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown.)
Suicide: When a person kills himself or herself on purpose. When a person
makes his or her own body stop working.
There are many reasons why people
die by suicide. Research tells us now that 95% of people who die by suicide had a mental illness that was diagnosed or was
un-diagnosed. At the time of a suicide a person is not thinking about the effect it will cause on their family and friends.
Sometimes they think their family and friends will be glad they are dead. This is never, never what happens. A family is always
sad and wish that they could have helped the person.
Families feel terrible
when someone dies by suicide. Some people try to pretend it was an accident. It is always better to be honest when someone
ends their own life. Here is a good way to understand what happens: "Some
people's bodies get sick and don't work right. And sometimes a person's brain or mind doesn't work right.
They can't see things clearly and they feel the only way to solve their problems is to take their own life- to kill themselves.
However, this is never a solution to problems, the only reason they thought of it is that they weren't thinking very clearly.
(How do We Tell the Children? by Dan Schafer and Christine Lyons)
It is important to teach children that there are always solutions to any problem. It always helps to
share our problems with others and listen to the ways that other people may suggest that we might solve our problem.
It is also important as friends of someone who had someone die by suicide that the focus should be on the loss of the person
and not on "how" the person died. No matter what someone is still missing having someone in their life. There is
a lot more confusion, sadness and anger with a death by suicide. It is helpful if the person can find a suicide survivor group
to attend or to go to a suicide survivor web site. Often people want to be with others who have had a similar situation happen.