Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post a reflection on grief as I continue to explore its landscape and listen to you. In the sharing of our stories with each other, we find encouragement and build a community of support.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Children Want the Truth

Book: Death Is Stupid, Anastasia Higginbotham

The things we tell children about death can make them think there is a terrible force waiting in the darkness to snatch people away, or worse, make them think that they killed grandma because of something they said.

Anastasia Higginbotham lays out the problem in her book — adults want the illusion; children want the truth.

Adults want to shield children from pain, so they say stupid things like “Grandma is resting.” Or they try to make death sound like a good thing. When we say, “Grandma’s in a better place.” children think that if they die, then they will be in a better place, which, of course, is where they want to go right now.

There are moments in the book when I laughed out loud, like when a parent says, “We lost Grandma,” and the child says, “Then find her.”

If you’re looking for a book to give to children to help them understand the death of someone they loved, this is an excellent place to start. Kids need to know that dying is not a punishment.

If we don’t tell children the truth about death, their imaginations will go into overdrive. They may not be able to understand everything that is going on, but if we’re upfront with them, they will understand that whatever death is, it’s part of life, and they will gradually come to know how this is so. The most important thing we can do is ask children how they’re feeling, and answer the questions they have honestly.

The first experience many children have with death is that of a family pet. When my family’s dog died, mom did not hide the truth. She said that she backed over Pepper with her car. We saw his unmoving body, wrapped him up, and we buried him in the back yard. While I don’t recall us having any discussion about the meaning of death, it was clear to me that death meant forever.

“It takes courage to go on living when the one you love has died,” Higginbotham says, “and to accept that death cannot be changed.”

The book is neatly illustrated with creative montages of photos, drawings and cutouts. At the end of the book, there are activities that kids can do to keep their connections with their loved ones.

Higginbotham’s book makes death less scary. It’s also for adults.