When someone close to you dies, you may be overwhelmed with feelings of anger, hurt, sadness and uncertainty. It is a painful and confusing time. The problem of what to say and how to talk about your feelings is one of the most difficult that you can face. You may be afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. If you must tell a child about death, you may want to hide the truth from a child in an attempt to protect him/her and help the child not to miss the person so much. You may say things like ''he is sleeping" or "he has gone away" instead of talking openly about someone's death.
When someone dies, you and/or your child may have a lot of different feelings, many at the same time, including surprise, disbelief, anger, guilt, loneliness, depression and sadness. Each person reacts to death in his or her own way. Some cry, some get angry, some get quiet and go off by themselves and some act like nothing happened. How you grieve is a personal thing and does not measure how much you cared about the person, only how you handle or express your feelings. Children also need an opportunity to express their feelings and fears. They learn what is acceptable by watching you. Your ability to be open and honest with them, will help them to better accept what has happened and to openly express themselves.
It is important to help your child talk about his/her feelings with someone who will listen. A child may be afraid that by talking about death, that it will happen again. S/he may be afraid that you or s/he will die, and be afraid to go to sleep; or won't let you out of sight; or lose appetite, experience headaches, mood swings, loneliness, depression or anger. Anger at God is not uncommon.
It the death is of a parent, the child may feel isolated and unsure of the future. If the person was the primary source of income, there may be concerns about how the family will survive. The child may feel the need to take over the role of the dead parent. Try not to put your child in the position of behaving like an adult. If you are grieving yourself, and can't give the attention that is needed to the child, find someone-a family member, family friend, clergy-that can help the child to grieve and be there for that child.
If the person that died is a friend, neighbor or distant family member, children often feel left out of the grieving process and feel that there is little they can do
The following are some things that you can suggest a child could do that might assist family or friends who have lost a loved one:
Remember that there are people out there who can help you and your child as you struggle with the death of someone. (See Counseling.) Schools and religious organizations may have support groups to help you deal with the death of someone. Call the following for a list of support groups: