How we can support children during times of grief
In a quiet corner of the reception room at Mitchell Funeral Home there is a painterly image of two children walking through long, golden grass towards a bright yellow sky, colourful birds, and butterflies. It’s Mary Cindrich’s illustration on the cover of Melissa’s Lyon’s acclaimed book, I Will Always Love You. The story was written to provide comfort to children who have suffered the loss of a loved one and it resonates with Funeral Director Larry Mitchell, his wife Colleen and son Bill. “We just kind of connected with it,” says Bill. “It seems like it’s for children, but it’s good for everyone.” It’s now a resource they keep on hand for families they serve at the funeral home.
The story is simple and provides guidance on how to move forward with life’s journey while continuing to embrace the spirit of the person you’ve lost. And for the Mitchell family, it embodies the honesty and simplicity kids need to heal.
Larry acknowledges that many people’s first instinct is to shelter kids from talking about death, but he says it’s imperative to let go of that fear.
The tough questions are more in parents’ heads than in the children’s minds. Kids are very curious. It’s natural and parents should allow that curiosity to come out. For the most part, they just want the basic questions answered and to move on.
LARRY MITCHELL, FUNERAL DIRECTOR
Larry says we can all take a cue from that young resiliency and try to consider the big picture. “Children are a reminder of the circle of life. It may be cliché, but it’s true. Grandpa died; he was 92 years old. The four-year-old great granddaughter brings back the reality of what it’s all about, that life goes on.”
The Mitchells also believe that as members of the family, children should be included in at least a portion of the formalities, within reason. “We have to manage expectations and remember that children won’t react the same way parents do,” Larry says. Many teens will want to return to normalcy as soon as possible and often that means going back to school and being with their peers.
“Very young children are unable to grasp what has happened,” Larry says. “Some parents don’t understand how their kids can be happy and play games at the funeral home. But kids are just doing real life and want to feel normal.” On that note, it’s important to consider the logistics of having young children attend funerals and visitations since they have relatively short attention spans. Larry recommends that parents create a backup plan and have care set up so that the kids don’t have to be there for long hours.
It’s important to remember that just like grieving adults, there’s no one-size-fits-all way to help kids find comfort. But Larry advises that parents address questions and create a healing dialogue. “Open conversations are key in allowing our children, and in turn ourselves, to find ways to cope with loss.”