Sunday, April 25, 2010

Teaching Children about Death

The loss of Flora is still being felt though my heart feels more bruised today than hemorrhaging. Loss will happen, as long as I treat the animals with respect and the best care I can give I think I'll be okay with that on a farm. But breaking the news (which somehow got out right before bedtime) to a housefull of young children is a difficult thing.

Their world collapses when there is death.

The almost eight year old understands a bit more than the almost seven, she in turn understands it better than the five, the three year old doesn't get it at all really. Our faith -Unitarian Universalism- is based on the fact that individuals have the unimpeded ability to choose their own belief system. They can choose who and what and how to pray, worship and rejoice. The problem is my kids haven't chosen yet.

My personal belief is that there is something after. I just can't live day to day thinking that when I die there will be nothing left. Death frightens me because I'm old enough to know that might not be true. My understanding of Rob's belief is that there is nothing after. You die, there is no more. I needed to help my kids with their grief, letting them come to their own conclusions but children need the tangible when they're too young to decide for themselves what the intangible is like.

Guiding my kids through their grieving process was a treacherous decision making ordeal rife with emotional and spiritual landmines. I let them take ahold of my belief to fill the void of their own, letting them grasp a Heaven. We talked about Flora and Grampa George (the only other they know that has died) and where they are, what they might be doing and how they are feeling. I taught them how to pray, sending prayers -wishes of our hearts- to those we loved and lost.

I let them guide the small beliefs of mine I gave to them as truths having them decide what things are like in this mysterious place they can't see or feel or touch. It was difficult knowing that the things I said last night could become their reality and shape their religious beliefs more than I wanted. It was harder still to guide them all together, each putting their own spin on the small truths I gave, without them belittling or discouraging another while they walked a parallel but different path. I tried to teach them respect for the beliefs of their siblings. I tried to let them understand there wasn't any other way for Flora except death. I tried to invoke their inner respect and compassion by explaining how hurt Flora was and how keeping her with us was wrong. I tried to be compassionate and tender as I cradled them in their mourning, letting their whole-body wrenching sobs wash over me, comforting me in my own grief. I tried and I hope I succeeded.  

I could have taken the easy road and given them a hard set of truths about the afterlife, ones that couldn't be questioned or dismantled by the unending curiosity of youth. I could have lied and never told them she had passed, just maybe went to live elsewhere. There are a million things I could have done and probably some mistakes made in the things I did do but I tried to stay true to my religion by not forcing my beliefs onto them but giving them a jumping board to discover their own.

It will be a wonderous thing to experience, when these little ones become adults, to see where their spiritual paths lead them. I know, being a parent and guiding these small beings, takes me further down my own path. And, while it's sad and hard sometimes, it's still a miraculous thing to behold.

1 comment:

Kaylala said...

Wow, Crystal...I totally respect your decision to let your kiddos choose what they want to believe...I'm trying to do the same for myself and my son...So far I have not had to explain death to my son...but when the time comes I hope I am as honest as you were.