My wonderful, great Aunt Winnie passed away just before Thanksgiving. Now, death itself is hard enough for anyone to deal with, but add in the upcoming holidays and it can be even more difficult for children. While Winnie was 93 and we expected the call sometime, the experience has been surreal since I don't think we're ever ready for the grieving process to begin. In the midst of it, I've been watching my children (9 and 14) deal with this in their own ways.
|My Aunt Winnie - I miss her so much!|
Here's what I've been observing and what's been helping us all through these rough weeks:
- Our faith: Here's where I think religion really is incredibly useful! We are an interfaith family, with my husband Jewish and me a former Catholic. Our children are being raised Unitarian Universalist; they're being taught about all faith traditions and learning to develop their own belief systems. To some degree, they already have. My daughter is a firm believer in reincarnation and the afterlife. The Teen believes in some semblance of the hereafter. Both kids feel the spirit lives on and this is helping them understand that in some way, our dear Aunt is still with us in Spirit. On Christmas Eve, we'll be saying a special prayer in her honor.
- Talking: They're seeing me grieve and although they weren't as close to Winnie as I was, they understand the sadness inherent in death. The kids have been cutting me some slack on not being myself lately. We've talked about how much we'll miss her and have been sharing stories about what a kind, generous person she was and how much she loved us all. My children know that it's okay to be a little sad this holiday season; healing takes time.
- Asking questions: My daughter has been asking about the rituals associated with death more than anything else. Before the memorial service and burial yesterday, she and I were able to go into the funeral parlor early. She asked questions about the casket, the body, Mass cards, etc. I described the body much like the shells of the cicadas we saw over the summer. Because I wasn't rushed and there was no one else there, we were able to have a nice, long discussion about what she was seeing and what to expect. After the service, the nun invited us to bless the body with Holy Water and the woman was kind enough to explain to Lily why we were doing it. Because I answered her questions honestly and in a matter-of-fact manner, there was nothing scarey about yesterday's rituals.
|Grieving is a process, not an event|
- Honoring the memory of the deceased: We've always had a memory tree (really just a corn plant) which hang with homemade ornaments containing the names of loved ones who have passed. We'll be adding an ornament in Winnie's name. Similarly, when she first died, I lit a Yahrzeit candle for her and let it burn in the fireplace. I love this Jewish tradition of burning a candle to symbolically represent the human soul (for more on this, click here). Watching the flame flicker made me feel closer to Winnie and was a loving reminder of her warm spirit. During the wake yesterday, Lily and I brought flowers to the casket because we always brought flowers to my aunt when she was alive. I plan to continue to have fresh flowers in my house so that the kids and I will be reminded of Winnie's beauty and kindness. Our Christmas tree contains ornaments she sent us over the years. If we cherished them before, they're even more special now.
Grieving is a process and I fully expect more questions to pop up, especially since the kids' grandmothers (one of whom is 90) will be coming over for Christmas. I'm anticipating the need for more cuddles on both their parts, possible regressive behavior and nightmares, and the need for them to feel more secure in the upcoming weeks. If need be, I'm ready to ask our minister to intercede and help us all cope with what's happened.
Death is an inevitable event that no one likes to think about. By keeping the memories of our deceased love ones alive and letting my children constantly know that I love them, I'm hoping to help them grieve just as I am. Aunt Winnie may be gone, but she lives in our memories and her death is an opportunity for us all to grow. She gave us love and that love continues.
Resources that have been helpful to me have included:
KidsHealth (https://secure02.kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/feelings/death.html) and
http://nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/griefwar.pdf; and the National Association Of School Psychologist (http://nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/griefwar.pdf).
Thank you for reading!