I heard a story recently that I just have to share with you; it is so wonderful on so many levels.
Amy is five years old and lives in California with her parents and grandmother, Linda. Linda is of Native American descent, and one day (before the recent rains) Linda took Amy outside and said, “We need rain. Let us do a rain dance.”
Of course, Amy is very curious and asked why. Linda said, “The rain brings life. The rain awakens the plants and makes everything alive and green again. The rain also helps the animals; when the plants awaken they become food for the animals, and the animals drink the rain water. So the rain brings life.”
The two began to dance around the yard in whatever silly movements they could come up with.
Late last year, Amy’s father was coming home from work when a speeding car clipped his rear bumper and sent him spinning through traffic. An oncoming semi hit his car and killed Amy’s father instantly. It was a shock to Amy’s family. Linda has always believed that children needed to be active parts of life and death and told Amy’s mother that she should be included, even though Amy is only five years old.
They brought Amy to the funeral home, and she helped pick out the flowers for her daddy’s casket. At the funeral service, Amy’s mother asked Linda to take her away so she would not be traumatized by the event, especially seeing her father in a casket. But Linda disagreed. She told Amy’s mother she would watch out for Amy and take care of her.
Amy wandered between the adults, introducing herself and asking if they knew her daddy. Then, after about an hour Amy went up to her daddy’s casket and tried to look in (under the watchful eye of Linda). Amy stepped back and began dancing in front of her father’s casket. Amy’s mother was about to run up and grab the child, but Linda stopped her. “I will take care of this,” Linda said. She slowly wandered up to Amy and asked her what she was doing. Amy said, “Rain brings life, so I am doing a rain dance to bring daddy back to life.”
Linda let her dance a little longer and then took Amy by the hand and led her to the side of the room. She explained to Amy that although that is true for plants, it does not work for people. Linda explained death in terms a five-year-old could understand, without candy-coating the truth. Amy cried, but she understood the best she could for her age.
If you are working with a family with children that have lost a caregiver, remember the following guidelines:
- Be honest when talking to young children. Use age appropriate language and do not say things like “Daddy is just sleeping.” This may cause irrational fears for the child when it is time to sleep.
- Children expect to be cared for and may become fearful that no one will be able to take care of them. This can shatter their sense of security. Reassure children that there are people in their lives who will be there for them.
- Do not exclude children from the arrangement process or funeral. Talking to children openly, you will learn what they understand and how they want to participate.
- Download the guide “Talking to Children about Death” from The Mourning Report, which will serve as a resource for you when working with families with children.
- Grieving families with children may benefit from Camp Hope. This camp is designed specifically for the family unit and provides a grief-nourishing environment.
If you would like to learn more about Camp Hope, go to http://www.schoedinger.com/grief-and-healing/camp-hope