The death of a family member is one of the most difficult things a person will ever experience. Grieving children often have an especially hard time coping with the loss and may feel confused or scared. Now is the time for you to exercise patience and to assure a child that he or she is loved. Since children may not fully understand the concept of death itself, the situation can become even more frightening when they are introduced to the process of cremation.
Encourage children to express their grief. If it’s culturally proper and age appropriate, allow them to see the body of the loved one and explain that the person is resting and is in peace. Explain the steps involved in a funeral and the significance of each step.
A parent is in the best position to decide what kind and how much information to share with a child. Children are naturally curious and prone to ask questions so it’s up to you to answer in the manner you feel is most appropriate. Just be honest, keep the explanation simple and give only as much information as the child requests.
Some believe that cremation is just too scary to discuss with children. In truth, it is far better for the child to understand that their loved one feels no pain during the process. Point out that cremation is a dignified way to take care of a person after death. In a tactful way, you can even explain how cremation equipment is used and that it is just one step in a dignified process to honor their family member.
Make sure you understand the process of cremation and how cremation equipment works so that you feel comfortable explaining it to a young child. A crematorium is the place where the cremation process takes place. It is usually adjacent to a funeral home but sometimes it is operated independently. The body is placed in a cardboard container or casket which is then placed into the cremation chamber. After about 1 ½ to 2 hours, the cremation is complete. The cremated remains are put through a final process making them ready to return to the family in a temporary container or cremation urn.
Choose your words carefully to avoid descriptions with negative connotations. Children have vivid imaginations and they may be terrified by words like “fire” and “burn”. You simply want to help your child understand that the person is laid in a comfortable container and taken to a special room at a crematorium where it is changed to small particles similar in appearance to kitty litter or grey sand. The entire process helps the body of their loved one to return to dust. When the cremated remains are returned to the family, be sure to include the child in deciding what to do with the “ashes”. This exercise provides much needed closure along with a sense of companionship and support within the circle of family and friends
Make sure you are always accessible to your child for the following weeks and even months. Children may have lingering thoughts or doubts and it may take time for them to share their reflections on death and cremation. With time and patience a child will soon open up. Remember that grieving is a natural and necessary reaction to death and is the only way to come to grips with the reality of losing a loved one. It is extremely important for parents not to force the grieving process and to remain available to guide their children and to answer all their questions.