|taken at my fathers grave when Mr. K was a newborn|
Given that my mother is from a large family, death was always a part of my life. The first time I REALLY remember being affected by a death was when I was around 8 years old. My great-aunt died, and it was very upsetting. I remember being at the wake and the funeral with my cousins, we sat right up near the front of the church.
I remember FEELING her loss - and my parents understood that my brother and I were grieving also. They allowed us the opportunity to say goodbye and to learn about the feelings that come with death.
The next experience wasn't far behind either. Family friends of ours lost their father/grandfather. We were close enough to the family that my brother and I actually called him papa harry. To this day I remember going to visit him and his wife on their farm in Perth. I remember the crazy straws that she had for us to drink out of; the ducks in the pond - and I remember how I felt when he died. Again, we were given the opportunity to say goodbye and to grieve.
These experiences weren't my first exposure to death, just the first ones that had an impact on me. My parents brought us to wakes and funerals from the time we were young. Death is a part of life - it is natural, and I think sometimes adults don't give children enough credit. Kids DESERVE the chance to say goodbye, just like we do. They DESERVE the chance to grieve, just like we do.
Wakes and funerals are a VERY important part of the process. I think parents feel that they need to shelter their children from death, or they feel that the kids don't understand what is happening so they don't need to be involved.....and this reminds me of my fathers death.
My father was involved in a ball league, and many of the men on the team had young children....the kids knew my father, but wouldn't be really impacted by his death....but they brought them to the wake. It was a GREAT time for them to be exposed and learn about death. BEFORE they had to experience a close loss.
My aunt and uncle's kids were relatively young (9, 6, 3, and almost 1) having them at the wake was nice; the youth and innocence was a great distraction. One of my absolute favorite memories from my fathers funeral (and yes, a little odd to have a favorite memory from a funeral) was of my 3 yr old cousin. Throughout the service she kept asking where uncle Rick was....out of curiosity - she knew that the funeral was to say goodbye to him, but she couldn't figure out where he was....after a few times of voicing the question, her older sister turned to her and said "he's dead" and that was it.... her question was answered.
When explaining death to children, it can be difficult...especially if you are grieving at the same time. I think that as adults, explaining things often gets complicated, but it doesn't need to be. Giving children short, simple answers and allowing them to ask questions can make it easier. Telling them that the person was old or sick, not always the best solution because depending on the child, they may interpret that to mean that ANY sickness or ANY old person will die.
Because my father died long before my children were born, it was really a no-brainer for me. Papa Rick has always been dead; he is in heaven. Anytime there has been a death, we have just explained simply that person has now gone to Heaven with Papa Rick. They have been to his grave countless times, and I have brought them to wakes and funerals also. When Mr. J was 10 months old, hubby's grandmother died. Not once did it occur to me to NOT have him with us at the wake/funeral. I did ensure that there was someone (my mom) around to help look after him....and during the funeral, he saw her and he crawled down the aisle from me to her....everyone had a quick chuckle over it.
If you are wondering when a good time to talk to your children about death is, before they experience a loss that will affect them. (it doesn't even need to be about people, you can start off with trees and flowers and what not) There are a number of books available that can help you figure out how to talk to your kids. Kids are smart - they can pick up that something is going on, they just don't know WHAT is going on.