I write this blog exactly on the first day of my father's death and five months after my father-in-law passed away. A blog about the loss of my father, my father-in-law and my mother (died 6 years ago) and how our children deal with it. And about the importance of talking to your child about death.
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As you can read above, my father and my father-in-law passed away in the past year. The children have had quite a bit of choice when it comes to illness, stress and the loss of their grandfathers. We have had to miss my mother for 6 years, but given the age of our children (10 and 14), it has been so long ago that the memories of that funeral are already wearing off.
Despite the fact that the past year has been a difficult year for us with many difficult moments, we as a family have come through this very well. Over the past few months, I've regularly wondered why it all went so 'right'. It is of course difficult to come up with an unambiguous answer to this, but I think it is mainly due to all the openness in the house. That you can talk to your child about death and your grief. But that we also bring back memories.
There are many ways to help your child with grief. From special Lego to comfort houses and books such as sweet grandma Pluis. We have not 'used' anything in the house to make the death of the grandfathers and grandmothers more bearable. We just talked a lot about it with the kids. And we cried. With each other. But also alone.
So I didn't hold back for a single moment. If I had to cry, I did. And I still do. For example, I can become very emotional from certain music that I hear. Music that immediately makes me think of my own parents or my father-in-law. And I can't get through a song like that. But I don't think that's necessary either. My children should be able to see that I am sad. That way they see that it's okay to be sad and to show it. That they don't have to hold back.
That is why the four of us were crying on the couch in front of the TV at the Passion. A song was sung that was also played at my father-in-law's cremation, and we were all four of us there.
What matters most is that you explain what is going on. That you are going to talk to your child about your grief and about death. My children now know that I cry when I hear some songs. Sometimes even jokes are made about it. "Don't put that number on because then she'll cry 'again'." With a wink. Then of course I have to laugh about it and that's how we make the subject negotiable.
The children also noticed that I was less sad about the death of my father than about my mother. Precisely because we talked so much about their deaths - without it being serious conversations straight away - Luc also simply asked me why I was less sad. I can explain that to him in great detail. I was also happy that my father was finally with my mother. And that his grief at her loss was no longer necessary. If you talk to your child about death and your grief, these kinds of questions can also be answered.
We have not spared our children when it comes to saying goodbye to grandparents, nor during the funeral. When all three died, they consciously said goodbye while laying out. Not because they had to, but because they wanted to. Of course we discussed in advance what they could expect from it. Did we talk about how cold a body feels when someone dies and how the facial expression can change. Did we mention that sometimes the lips have to be tied together because the muscles stop working and otherwise the mouth falls open.
But we have also shown that it can be nice to be able to touch someone - even after death - if you need to. That it can be nice to sit around grandpa or grandma with your family and just chat. About what he or she was like. Reminisce and joke. Light a candle or place a flower. Simply because death is part of life.
And that may all sound a bit sinister, but children have questions about this. And if they can ask those questions and receive honest answers, it ensures that they can resign themselves more to the loss. It's so. And the world doesn't stop spinning. The work continues, there is a need to eat and school does not stand still either.
For example, we also talked about the costs that you incur with a funeral or cremation. About funeral insurance that you can take out or that you can pay it all out of your own pocket. And that that can cost between € 7,000 and € 10,000. They were quite shocked by that. And then come the creative ideas and questions 😉 .
“Do you have to be buried in a coffin, or can you also do that in a box?” “That's a lot cheaper and you go underground, or in the oven.” Well, completely true of course and it's allowed also. It doesn't have to be as strict as you think and that is also a good thing to discuss. For example, I was only at a funeral of my uncle where the children and grandchildren had hammered the coffin themselves. Also a beautiful way to mourn together.
Children and mourning is a special thing. Every adult grieves in his own way, but every child is also entitled to his own way of grieving. Not involving them in the death and the funeral is, I think, a great loss. In my opinion, the processing can only really get going if there is room for a conversation and if emotions are allowed to be shown. When children are involved, but are allowed to be themselves in the whole process.
I recently read a piece by Beatrijs who is not at all in favor of involving small children (and by that she also means children around 4-6 years old) in the death. And they shouldn't be at the funeral at all, because that's no use to them. And they are “a burden” to others. Even at the funeral of grandpa or grandma. I don't agree with that at all. I even think it's bizarre and can't imagine at all that we wouldn't involve our children in this. This is also part of learning to live, isn't it?
What would you do?