We are in Somerset for a special family occasion. After a long illness Grandpa Lovelygrey died in January and today, the family are meeting the lovely local vicar, Lee who will perform a ceremony to inter his ashes.
Death is an event I encounter up close far more often than Joe Public because of the nature of my job. Sometimes circumstances are tragic or a release from terrible illness. More commonly death just seems to be a consequence of old age. Each time it happens to someone that I've been working with I have to fill in a serious untoward incident form. Understandable where death might have been avoided but should the normal process of coming to the end of natural life really be viewed as something ill fated?
There are different schools of thought about how to help children deal with a death in the family. Some parents try to protect them when this happens by not talking about the incident or their feelings. They also exclude them from ceremonies such as the funeral service or the burial. Others, like us are more open, allowing the child to share the experience with the family. Perhaps there are no rights or wrongs but I thought I'd write an account of what we did.
There's been lots of questions and perhaps a little pre-occupation with death, certainly in the days after the event. Some of his responses have seemed inappropriate to an adult, for example on the day that Grandpa died 'I'm really sad. Now can I watch Tom and Jerry?'. And, of course, there's been lots of questions mainly of a practical nature ('Is grandpa really in that box?'). For a time, every deceased bird lying in the street prompted the comment 'That's dead...like Grandpa'.
When Grandpa Lovelygrey's death was imminent we explained this to Louis. He was taken to the hospital by Mr Lovelygrey to see him about a week before Grandpa died. We told Louis that this was probably the last time he would see him and that he should say a silent goodbye. He did not see Grandpa's body like his father did but he did attend the funeral and behaved impeccably. He will also be with us today which will no doubt prompt further interesting questions.
Most importantly He's seen how family members react to death, experienced how they felt, seen them cry and shared their grief. We've encouraged him to be particularly sensitive to Nana Lovelygrey and to date he's doing a good job!