Thursday, September 4, 2014

Never Forget: Helping Children Grieve

Coming up on the day when Americans, and many people around the world, remember the terror attacks in New York and Washington, I thought I would share again one way we helped our children grieve and cope with the death of a loved one when they were young.

“Pete has just passed away,” my father-­in-­law told me over the phone that July day in 1999. Pete, my husband’s brother, my children’s uncle, the father of their only (at that time) cousins, dead of cancer at forty ­two. 

Jim was able to travel across continents to comfort his parents and say his final farewells, but to the five of us left in South America it seemed unreal. This man whom we saw only for a few weeks every three years was in heaven. The Bible says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,” (Psalm 116:15) but for us it is separation. How could I help my children, then 5, 9, 10, and 13, assimilate the facts, express their grief, and learn that it’s okay to remember Uncle Pete with joy in the midst of sorrow?

One night as I lay awake praying, the Lord gave me an idea to implement around our table, 4000 miles from where the funeral was taking place in Iowa. I told my children that before we had lunch, we would be having a memorial service for Uncle Pete and asked them to think of the things they remembered about him to tell the rest of us.

When they came to the lunch table they saw I had placed an unlit candle at each of their places. A  lit one was in the center of the table. Their curiosity was aroused. I explained that the lit candle represented Uncle Pete. After each one told the things they remembered about him, they could light their candle from Uncle Pete’s.

Their memories were not many or deep — a backyard barbecue, splashing down a waterslide, helping with yard work, a Fourth of July picnic, going out for pizza. When each one had spoken and lit their candle, we watched the flames a moment. Then I blew out Pete’s candle and told the kids, “We don’t have Uncle Pete with us any more, but we still have our memories of him, just like our candles are still lit.” 

We read a few verses and I explained that even though Pete is not here, he still lives in heaven. Jesus said, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11:25) We sang a hymn about heaven and each of us prayed for one of the people who will miss him most: Pete’s widow and children, Grandma and Grandpa, Dad, Pete and Jim's sister. Their eyes were moist when we finished. We concluded with another hymn of praise and trust that we had been learning and then I served lunch.

During the meal the kids watched their candles and talked about whose flame was the biggest and who, therefore, had the most memories of Uncle Pete.

Death is a part of life, but a part our culture tries to deny. As Christian parents, I think it is important to help our children face the pain rather than deny it, to say good­bye, and to begin to understand the hope of heaven even if we live far away from the loved one who passed. Even if the first goodbye is to a beloved pet, we should let them learn to work through the grief, not cover it.

I pray that my children started to learn these things from this simple ceremony. I’m sorry if you have a loss in your family, but perhaps this memorial service will benefit your family as well.

“Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18)

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing with Adorned From Above's Link Party. Have a great week.
    Debi @ Adorned From Above



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