Treating child bereavement like building blocks: Missing Mummy and discussing her funeral
With Molly being just 3 when her Mum died I've had such a focus on how she processes her loss and the pace at which she is given the information about death.
Earlier this week she broke my heart when she said...
'Daddy, do you remember when mummy used to...'
'But I don't want to talk about Mummy, 'cos it makes me sad and I think about her all the time and that makes me sad'
It was interesting, because for the few days prior to this conversation I had noticed that she was crying a lot more than normal, she'd been saying things like 'I don't feel like doing things' and in hindsight she was obviously really processing her loss and feeling the weight of her grief very much in the same way that it floors me from time to time.
So, I waited a day or so for the right moment and then I read her a book called 'Missing Mummy' by Rebecca Cobb. The book is close to home for Molly and talks about the same journey that she has been on, it helps to normalise her situation but also her feelings and opens the floor for her to talk about anything that's on her mind through the vehicle of somebody else's story.
Thankfully I'd prepared myself for the questions that she decided to ask as she was really interested to know about funerals and it provided me with the opportunity to build on her understanding of death.
I'd decided early on to treat her understanding of death and loss like building blocks, I wanted to be able to introduce one block (part) at a time and make sure her understanding was firmly in place before adding more blocks and trying not to overload or scare her in the process.
The first block was about the fact that Lauren would be dying, why it was going to happen and all credit to Lauren who actually put the foundations down for this which was so incredibly brave. It was important here for me to use words that couldn't be open to interpretation so we used dying and died instead of passing away, we used the words cancer instead of sick or poorly and in no way have I allowed her to think that Lauren could come home at any point.
Then I wanted her to know more about the things we might feel, how we can remember people and that it's OK for her to feel a full range of emotions. This one is less like a building block and more like the cement that holds the bricks together and will need constant reassurance and application with each block that's laid.
Next, I wanted her to understand better what happens to someone's body when they die and how it stops working and that they don't need it any more, this is a really tough one because it's hard enough to get our adult minds around, but is essential for being able to talk to her about cremations and funerals. This one has so far been the longest piece, because the way Molly saw the situation, was that Lauren and just gone somewhere else, as she was. Luckily I didn't need to get into talking in too much detail about spirits and heaven etc, I'm still trying to figure out how I explain this too her, because actually although I believe in an afterlife I have no idea what I think that looks like. But to help support this message I decided (with advice from her child bereavement counsellor) to read her Always and Forever by Debi Gliori because in it's illustrations it depicts quite well a scene of one of the characters being dead in a very child appropriate way.
Which brings me to our recent conversations about funerals and cremation. I'd bought Molly a piece of cremation jewellery and am really keen for her to be involved when we eventually inter Lauren's Ashes. But I was very aware that the idea of putting someone's body and coffin into a fire could potentially be a scary concept and cause her some unsettling emotions if she hadn't got her head around the previous building block. In preparation for this conversation and in an attempt to be clear in my mind about the language and structure this conversation would take, I read a children's book called What Happened to Daddy's Body? by Elke Barber. I'd decided not to read this to her directly so as not to confuse her with it being about a Dad. But it definitely helped me know how direct I needed to be with my language and when the opportunity presented itself and she asked 'Daddy, what happens at a funeral?' I told her...
'That Mummy's dead body is put into a coffin and taken in a big car to big room, where her family and friends all sit to say goodbye to her. There was a nice lady stood at the front who reminded everyone all about Mummy and how lovely she was. Then at the end, everybody left and put a flower on Mummy's coffin to say goodbye as they were leaving. After that they lowered the coffin and Mummy's body into a fire and burned it, turning it into Ashes.
After that we all went to the hall for some tea and cake and to talk about Mummy and that's when you came to see everybody, do you remember?'
She really took the information on board well and then I showed her the small scatter tube of Ashes that we have at home at the moment and explained that the necklace I gave her a few weeks ago actually had some of Mummy's Ashes inside and it transformed the situation into quite a nice moment where she kissed her necklace and spoke about how special it was.
I'm not quite sure what the next block is, I'll keep working on this one for a while as I'm sure there'll be more questions or confusion that I'll need to iron out. But I'm really proud of her and how well she is adapting and dealing with such a huge loss at just 4 years old. She is doing her Mummy proud and I'll do my best to keep supporting her on her journey with grief.
Here are some other books that I have read to Molly throughout her grief journey and would recommend all of them for different reasons, my biggest piece of advice would be to read them yourself first and be prepared for questions that your little ones may have.
Swipe to see the covers which are linked to their Amazon listing.
And as is generally the way, I like to finish with a link to a song and although an entire song may not always feel relevant sometimes there may be even just one line or lyric that really speaks to me. This song really feels appropriate when talking about the message I'm trying to give to Molly.
Thanks for reading and being a part of our journey!