The inevitable reality and harsh truth of death is something we all experience at some point or another in our lives. For the fortunate this is an occurrence that waits until we are older and can grasp and grapple with the abstract concepts and feelings associated with this. For others it is something that happens when we are quite young and impressionable.
As a parent, experiencing this is not only about how we feel ourselves, it’s about understanding or being aware of the fact that it is something that is impacting our children on some level and that fact that we need to be able to handle this carefully to help them through it. Fear, grief, regret, love, sadness, concern, confusion and anger among many other feelings will surface and need to be dealt with when faced with a death in the family. Depending on the closeness of the relative who has passed, the reactions will differ but the premise is the same. Someone who was with us no longer is, and that changes things.
Now the media, video games and movies perpetuate zombies and graveyard ghosts as the stuff of cinematic drama to make death and everything that goes along with it seem like a scary or a violent thing but in reality most of the time that just isn’t the case. Death is a normal occurrence that is part of life. Life is fragile and no one knows how or when their time will come. In our faith we find the strength to believe that it has been written and fated for us to die a certain death, and that we are returning to Allah. We accept that. It doesn’t make the experience of losing someone any easier because saying goodbye is always hard, especially when losing someone who was young in age or in a sudden death, but it gives us peace and the ability to accept what has happened. We can then find comfort and hope. We can go on to remember the memories we have of those who have left us and pray for them. Talking about the departed helps to heal from the grieving process. It allows a person to cry and release some of the emotion and manage the loss.
For kids this is often a time of upheaval in the family and they need the support of the parents and caregivers to be able to navigate successfully and learn from this experience how to handle death in their lives. They need to be given the space to see what’s happening, to ask questions and get proper answers to them, no matter how ridiculous we as adults may think they are. They need to be allowed to cry and express what they are thinking and feeling, and share in the responsibilities of preparing for any wake/funeral with whatever tasks a parent sees as appropriate. They need to know what to say and do and how to accept condolences and to respond to others in these situations. Sharing prayers to read with them is also a good way to involve them, and make them feel like they are contributing something valuable. They also need to see how the adults around them take charge of the situation and handle saying goodbye and making arrangements for burial, and afterward sorting out the deceased’s affairs like personal effects, bills, debts and official paperwork. They also need to know how and when visiting the gravesite to pray is done and encouraged to do so if appropriate.
Death is never easy and can be a major milestone for a young child to experience. Our roles as parents is to understand how they are it and guide them through it pragmatically and respectfully.