Friday, November 2, 2012

How To Deal With Unexpected Death In The Family

November 1st marks the All Saint's Day holiday and what better way to start this month's entry is to post something related to it. 

Explaining the sudden death of a family member to a child can be very difficult since children have different thresholds of grief compared with adults. When my mother died almost a year ago, I was succumbed into the feeling of intense grief but I had to fight it for the sake of my daughter.

In reality, children will not understand the pain adults feel during intense grief and this is the reason why they can still smile, laugh and even play even during the wake of the funeral. In some ways, I can also relate to them when I was still young.

You see, I lost my father when I was still four years old so I really couldn’t remember anything that happened then but my older sisters told me that I spent the entire time playing with my cousins during my father’s wake.

During the wake, my daughter believed that her lola was sleeping inside her “new bed” as what she puts it and so she often scolds us whenever we form a crowd near our mother’s coffin.  The only time I have seen her cry was when my mother’s coffin was finally laid to rest in the cemetery. She probably realized then that her lola was never waking up anymore.

I thought she have already understood but a few weeks after the funeral, she kept on asking if we can visit her lola’s new home so that she can wake her up. That is the time when I also realized that, I should have explained everything to her properly from the beginning.

I have searched several resources both found online and some clinical psychology books lying in the house but I cannot find a lot of helpful tips that are geared towards single parents and so I am going to list down what I did to help explain this situation to my daughter. These methods are crude but if you know other things, feel free to share them here.

(1)    Involve older nieces and nephews in the process. During the wake, children often congregate together and do stuffs on their own. When I was still young, we’d play games during the wakes of our beloved aunt or grandparents but we also talked about the situation at one point or the other and this is how children get their support from  each other for their loss. Since my daughter is an only child, I have to involve her older cousins as they are mature enough to understand the situation and relay it- in child’s language and jargon- to my daughter. I was lucky enough that the oldest cousin was a responsible 14-year old so he was able to look after the kids while the grown ups are busy with all of the preparations.

(2)    Tell them that it is normal to be sad but don’t be too technical about it. There are five stages of grief which include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. However, a small child has no way of comprehending these things so it is important to tell your child that feeling sad is a normal process. Also, it is important that you assure your child that you also feel the same way about the situation. As much as possible, let your child talk about his or her feelings.  I feel sorry for parents and people who forbid their child to talk about death in the belief that the spirit of the dead will not be able to go to the afterlife. If you forbid your child to talk, this will make the child make less receptive about death. Death is a natural process and should be embraced by anyone including young children.

(3)    Enlist the help of your relatives. The most difficult thing about being a single mom is that you don’t have a partner to help you sort out your grief. And so, I enlisted the help of my sister and while she took care of running the household, I deal with matters related to my child. I just hope that my sister does not wear herself out from helping us.

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