Helping a child deal with bereavement
When a deceased family member or friend is cremated or already has been
cremated, your child may want to know what cremation is. In answering
your child's questions about cremation, keep in mind the guidelines
for talking to a child about death. Keep your explanation of what
cremation involves simple and easy to understand.
In explaining cremation to your child, avoid using words that may have
a frightening connotation such as "fire" and "burn."
Instead, in a straightforward manner, tell your child that the deceased
body, enclosed in a casket or container, is taken to a place called a
crematory where it goes through a special process that reduces it to small
particles resembling fine gray or white sand. Be sure to point out that
a dead body feels no pain.
Let your child know that these cremated remains are placed in a container
called an urn and returned to the family. If cremation has already taken
place and the container picked up, you may want to show it to the child.
Because children are curious, your child may want to look at the contents.
If your child makes such a request, look at them yourself first so that
you can describe what they look like. Share this with your child. Then
let the child decide whether to proceed further.
If possible, arrange for a time when you and your child can be with the
body before cremation is carried out. If handled correctly, this time
can be a positive experience for the child. It can provide an opportunity
for the child to say "good-bye" and accept the reality of death.
However, the viewing of the body should not be forced. Use your best judgment
on whether or not this should be done.
Depending on the age of your child, you may wish to include him or her
in the planning of what will be done with the cremated remains. Before
you do this, familiarize yourself with the many types of cremation memorials
available. Some of the many options to consider include burying the remains
in a family burial plot, interring them in an urn garden that many cemeteries
have, or placing the urn in a columbarium niche.
Defined as a recessed compartment, the niche may be an open front protected
by glass or a closed front faced with bronze, marble, or granite. (An
arrangement of niches is called a columbarium, which may be an entire
building, a room, a bank along a corridor, or a series of special indoor
alcoves. It also may be part of an outdoor setting such as a garden wall.)
Although your child may not completely understand these or other options
for memorialization, being involved in the planning helps establish a
sense of comfort and understanding that life goes on even though someone
loved has died.
If you incur any difficulties in explaining death or cremation to your
child, you may wish to consult a child guidance counselor who specializes
in these areas.