Death can come without warning, leaving no chance to prepare -- how do we help children through it?
There are tragedies that suddenly transform the life of a whole family: a father killed in a car accident, a teenager fallen off a cliff, a child drowned at sea… When the death of a loved one comes suddenly without a warning, the unbearable suffering is always accompanied by a sense of incomprehension.
At such times so many “why’s” come flying from the mouths of children. Heartbroken, torn by anger and despair, you might feel unable to respond. Yet, children should feel free to ask their questions and receive honest answers. They won’t do so, however, unless they feel you’re ready to handle their questions.
Always listen to what the child has to say before giving your answers
You don’t need to provide an instant answer to your children. First, you need to carefully listen to what they have to say. This is what children need the most: for you to really hear him or her out, without projecting your own questions onto theirs. However, as we all know, it’s very hard to truly listen to someone, especially while we ourselves are suffering and overcome with heartbreak and fear.What’s more, at times you might be trying so hard to give the right answer that you become focused on it instead of actually hearing the question.
To listen carefully, people don’t just use their ears, but their eyes. The facial expression of a child is as expressive as his words, if not more. Their whole bodies can sense if you are listening to them.
Never give a ready-made answer
As you deal with your children’s questions, don’t provide them with ready-made solutions; instead, try guiding them so they can find “their own” answer. There is the ultimate Truth, and it should be taught. But an answer that children cannot fully grasp serves no purpose. It’s as if you were offering them sustenance they cannot fully digest.
There are brilliant theological treaties on the mystery of redemption, but as you well know, even if you read them to your children, they hold no answer to these agonizing questions. We all need to seek our own answers which will depend on age, nature, and experience.