Q&A: 4-year-old and death

Ally writes:

"My grandmother is dying of cancer, and I am conflicted over whether ornot it would be ok to have my 4 year old boy at the funeral home for a
little while. We've talked to him about death plenty, as my mother
passed away unexpectedly last fall although they were not close enough
for it to have a long-lasting impact. What I am unsure about is that
there will probably be an open casket. I have issues with that myself,
partly because I want to be cremated once I die because to me once
you're gone, you're gone and your body is just the vessel that is left
behind. But I also was very deeply impacted by my grandfather's passing
when I was 14. He and my other grandmother raised me, his death was the
most awful thing that could possibly happen at the time, and I was
completely freaked out by my grandmother kissing and touching his dead
body.

So, a 4 year old and an open casket – inappropriate? Or is it just me?

And
since I am writing about death and my 4 year old, I may as well toss
this in. We have a 13 year old dog that has cushings disease and at
some point we'll either no longer be able to afford to treat it or
we'll have to put him to sleep because the medication isn't effective
any more. A couple of years ago before he was diagnosed and there was a
good chance he'd die of old age my husband and I talked about what we
would do if he died at home. In that scenario we are both comfortable
with giving our son a chance to say goodbye before taking care of the
body. Now that we are facing euthanasia, I don't know what the best
thing to do is. I don't want to make up something and just have him
disappear. But I don't know how up front to be about the euthanasia
part. How do you explain to a preschooler that you are putting a pet to
sleep? Is it appropriate to do so?

I typically shoot for honesty above sugar coating things, but
again, I have a bad situation in my past where we had to put a beloved
dog down because she started behaving in a way that couldn't be managed
by us. So I can't think very clearly about this."

I completely think the open casket thing is cultural, nothing more. In my culture of origin, open casket is the norm, and to not do it would be disrespectful to the deceased person, and also everyone would worry that the survivors didn't get to have closure because they couldn't actually see that the person was dead.

I didn't know that everyone didn't do open casket until I was an adult, and my first reaction was that people who had closed casket were avoiding the normal grieving process! So it just goes to show that different things work for different people. One person's unbelievably creepy is another's normal, and one person's repressed and avoidant is another person's respectful.

Having said that, I can remember going to open casket visiting hours from a very young age (around 4) and not being creeped out by the body, but finding it interesting that it was so obvious that this was just Uncle Joe's body, but Uncle Joe himself wasn't there anymore. It made the difference between alive and dead really concrete for me as a kid in a matter-of-fact way. But that probably had to do with the fact that the adults there were all confortable with open casket themselves, and had grown up with it, too, so it was just a given.

So my answer is that it's not going to hurt your son to see your grandmother's body in the open casket, but if you don't think you will react well to it yourself, then you shouldn't be the one with him, or you shouldn't bring him. As to your question, it sounds like you think open casket is inappropriate in general, so this really doesn't have anything specifically to do with your son. If you decide you can deal with it, bring him. If you think it'll be too strange for all of you, then don't come. He'll be fine either way, as long as you're honest about what happened to your grandma and he gets a chance to express and feelings about her being gone.

Oh, the dog. It's so hard to lose a pet, and anticipating how your kids will react to it makes it even worse. But kids seem to be way better at accepting the circle of life than adults are.

When I had to put my sweet, elderly cat down a few years ago, my older son was 4 and my younger one was still a baby. I told my older son that Siggy was in a lot of pain, and that we had to "help her die" by giving her some medicine that would make her die. I believe in heaven so I added that in, but the "help her die" angle works pretty much universally, I'd guess. Euthanasia is an act of kindness, so approaching it that way is going to let you be honest about all angles of it. You can still be sad that the dog is sick and in pain, and that you'll miss the dog, but you know you're doing the thing that's best for the dog.

Anyone want to share what you told your kids about putting down a pet? What have your experiences been with death rituals for humans–open casket, closed casket, cremation, kids at visitation/wakes/shiva, etc.?

72 thoughts on “Q&A: 4-year-old and death”

  1. For the pet, if your particular beliefs allow pets in heaven, then I second the recommendation of the Cynthia Rylant books. We used Cat Heaven when we had to put our cat to sleep, and it gave our two year old a sense of what we thought had happened to her. It also made Husband and I cry, so be prepared for that.We did bring our son with us to the vet, because it was an urgent situation, and once the decision had been made, we explained that the cat was very sick, and the doctor couldn’t make her better, so we were going to make sure that she didn’t hurt anymore. That was about as much as the two year old could absorb, but he stroked her gently and said goodbye.
    I agree with Moxie that a four year old will take cues from his caretaker regarding both the grandmother and the dog. If you are creeped out by an open casket your son will know, and you should assign someone else to watch him for the day, either at the funeral, or somewhere else. If you take it as a normal part of the grieving process, then your son will accept it as normal.

  2. Four is usually the age when kids are fascinated by death. When you explain what happened, see what his reaction is. He may surprise you with questions, and you might find it a good thing to take him. But if you don’t think he will deal well with it, there certainly isn’t any harm in leaving him at home.

  3. I can only comment on the pet issue. We lost an 11-year-old black Lab almost one year ago when she developed bloat suddenly in the middle of the night. My then 5-year-old woke up when my husband had to rush her to the vet for emergency surgery. We knew there was a significant likelihood that she wouldn’t make it through. My daughter got to say goodbye to Cody in the back of the Blazer. My son, then 3, was asleep and did not.Their ability to accept and understand what had happened was very different, and I don’t think it was just because of the age difference. My son woke up to find that the dog he loved, who had been next to him when he fell asleep, was gone. He wanted, very much, to see her. Because of the circumstances of her death mid-surgery, the vet strongly advised that we not let him see the body.
    Our second dog – the litter-mate of the first – is now twelve and very arthritic. We can see already that within the next 12-18 months, we’ll have to make the decision to euthanize. When that happens, we want to make sure that both children get to see her, ask whatever questions they need to, and say good-bye.

  4. Nothing to add except Cynthia Rylant has a book “Dog Heaven” that we have tucked away for the inevitable (which is coming soon for us as well with our 15 year old dog). I think she also wrote one called “Cat Heaven”.But then, I can’t recommend Cynthia Rylant highly enough as quality children’s literature.
    Thanks Moxie for the words to use when it’s time to help Sammy die. I was struggling with that as well.

  5. my 4 year old when to a lot of funerals last year (3, it was a rough year). For whatever reason, we didn’t let her view the body at the only one that had an open casket viewing. I’m nor sure why–I’m with Moxie, it was so clearly not Miss H (our elderly neighbor) anymore in there. Our daughter was the only child under 16 at the funeral–and there weren’t many of those either. We were surprised at her reaction–she wanted to know where Miss H’s body was, and when we explained it was in the casket she was interested in seeing it. by then it was too late.what we didn’t do was talk to her about cremation, which happened in 2 of the funerals, in fact one was a memorial with no casket/body at all. She thought that was *really* strange. This is despite the fact that both my husband and I want to be cremated. At the final funeral, we went gravesite. Frankly, I think that is about the creepiest, especially since in most funerals it seems like the casket is just sitting up there and they don’t lower it while the family is around. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust aren’t as comforting to me without the finality of real dirt and wood and not plastic grass and air.
    anyhow, I think that 4 year olds are remarkably resilient and you will be hearing questions and replays of it forever no matter what happens. Miss H was buried in March of last year and just this weekend she asked me if we knew where the body was buried. Go with what *you* can stomach. I think everything is so new to kids that as long as their caretakers are sane and treat them lovingly, they take whatever happens pretty much like, well, this is how life is.
    as for the dog situation, how painful. I think Moxie is spot on as usual.

  6. From a traditional Jewish perspective: never an open casket, never, never, never. Simple pine box, although in Israel sometimes only a shroud (some of the cemeteries in Jerusalem have been around for many generations and are, um, crowded). Get the body in the ground ASAP. Like the next day (if possible), in the US, and sometimes the same day, in Israel.For the Jewish funerals I’ve been to (thankfully not many), children at funerals/gravesites is not common. Generally speaking children are not welcome at shiva either, unless they are old enough to really not distract from the proceedings. (I did take one of my kids to a shiva once, because it wasn’t local and I really needed to go. And I knew that it would be ok with the person who was sitting shiva.) But this perspective might also be colored by the fact that I’ve spent almost 10 years married into a German Jewish family; protocol and propriety are really entrenched.
    I have been to a few church funerals/visitations and have been incredibly relieved that the caskets have been closed. So I agree with Moxie that it’s cultural norms and all that.
    I have nothing for the pet, other than to say that even older kids may surprise you. My parents euthanized our beloved dog (at age 16+); my brother was 11 or 12 and insisted on staying in with her when she died. My mom couldn’t handle it. My stepfather stayed in with my brother, because he felt that he had to…but my brother was really the rock of the family through the whole thing. (I was abroad at the time.)

  7. My comment is just about the pet issue. My parents once euthanised a pet without telling me. I found out afterwards and it was just wrong to me – I felt like I lost the opportunity to say goodbye. I was much, much older, but I think it is important for the child to be in the loop so they can feel like their loss is recognised.

  8. Talk to your vet about euthanasia planning. My sister is a vet, and she said they were very clear on the need to say goodbye, and that euthanasia is a kindness, the last loving gift we can give to an animal who is dying (at least in that case), the gift of a gentle passing, often in loving conditions. (My sister recently blogged about putting down one of her own cats, which illustrates the point: http://vetontheedge.blogspot.com/2008/12/ode-to-many-toed.html – If you don’t think you could ask your vet without feeling weird about it, you could probably ask my sister how to approach it. She’s good with kids, too.)Absolutely talk about the euthanasia. At 4, it might not be reasonable to be at the window watching it happen, but a hug beforehand and maybe being able to see the body afterward (if they want to – depends on the child, and if the vet protocols allow afterwards, I don’t know if there are conditions in which they wouldn’t)… it’d be much like a viewing (usually for an older kid, but I don’t know the range). I know my sister has done all sorts of odd things to make a euthanasia more appropriate for the owners/family, and that can include taking a clipping of hair as a concrete memorial, that kind of thing.
    I’ve only been to a few funerals, never as a kid (they all happened too far away), but I’ve seen kids at the few I’ve been to, including open casket. I agree with Moxie – as long as the adults are dealing, the kids deal better. They mainly consider it a grownup event where they’re running about with the other kids present. Totally different experience from that angle.

  9. my partner died last summer when my daugther was 3 and a half. i consulted very widely with therapists, social workers and psychologists. the message was practically unanimous: do not hide anything from children, what they imagine is far worse than any reality, and particularly in this age group, they are prone to magical thinking and if they feel any hesitation or cover up they may react by not discussing their ideas and concerns. in the end i choose to let my daugther stay with me through the whole process, we put a gift in his suit pocket, she was there when the coffin was open [insisting on kissing him, which was way way over my boundaries but made sense to her] and she was the one to help putting the lid on when it was time. today she seems completely open about her feelings about her and very sure about what actually happened. of course i will not really know how we did for another 10 years….i recommend “The Goldfish Went on Vacation: A Memoir of Loss (and Learning to Tell the Truth about It)” by Patty Dann.

  10. I was just one month past my 5th birthday when my Dziadzio (Polish grandfather) died and I remember that funeral so well. I was fascinated by the body. I knew it wasn’t him – it looked like a bad wax statue of him. But I really wanted to stay near the casket to see what other people did when they went up to it.There was nothing creepy or scary about it at all….that is until my uncle unintentionally scared the wits out of me. I had asked him why Dziadzio didn’t have his glasses on (and why they were next to him in the coffin) and he told me, quite innocently and what he thought was truthfully, that it was because if they put the glasses on the body then from some angles it would look like his eyes were open and he was staring at you. That frightened me terribly and I then just wanted get the glasses so I could make sure no one would try to put them on his face. It was the mixing with the dead – which I understood – with the characteristics of the alive that frightened and confused me so much. I still don’t like open caskets to this day.

  11. I think it totally depends on the child. If a person feels they can attend a wake without a child being disruptive and without being distracted by their child from the purpose of the occasion, then they can bring them. But my gut tells me most kids aren’t wired for such a somber event and it is probably best for the older elementary schooler.Also, if there is an “after” dinner, meal, or occasion at someone’s home, an impish 4 year old might be just the cure for the sadness of a funeral. I remember taking my 9 month old to a hospital while a dear uncle was dying. He was passed around from lap to lap several times and brought much needed joy to the waiting room. But funerals are meant to be contemplative and that would be hard for a 4-year old to pull off.

  12. We just dealt with this this past week. Husband’ grandmother died on New Year’s Day, she was 94. We told our 5 year old, but not the 2 1/2 year old. They did not go to the wake or funeral. They have 2 younger cousins who were at the wake, but we just did not feel it was the right decision for our kids. The casket was open and she did not look like herself at all.I know the 5 year old would understand-as she gets the concept of death and the 2 1/2 year old would probably not remember, but we just couldn’t do it.

  13. I haven’t faced the open casket issue — mine is a cremation/memorial service kind of family — but my son was a few months shy of 5 when our dog died. In our case, she was old but in reasonable health, and suddenly became acutely ill. We took her to the vet hospital, but I was quite certain that she wouldn’t be coming home. I had my son say goodbye to her before she went to the hospital. I didn’t emphasize that this might be a permanent goodbye, but it was at least a way for him to see that she was very, very sick.We wound up, of course, having to put her down, after two or three days at the hospital. Did I tell my son we had her euthanized? No. Absolutely not. We told him a slightly different version of the truth: she was very sick, too sick to live, and she died. We just left out the part about HOW she died. I didn’t think it was relevant. Our dog was dying, period. She died.
    Telling him, of course, was awful, but even through his tears he told us, “I’m sad, because she died, but I’m a little bit happy because now she’s not sick anymore.” Wow.
    Several commenters have mentioned “Dog Heaven,” which actually, I DON’T recommend, at least not in the immediate grieving period. It might be useful to prepare a child for the eventuality of a dog’s death, but when a friend gave us a copy right after our dog died, my husband and I reviewed it and decided not to give it to our son. We felt it would be too upsetting and confusing for him. We didn’t want to force him to think about or talk about the death, since he was already processing it well and talking to us about it when it was on his mind.

  14. My grandfather died when I was 10 and my brother was six. We both went to the wake, funeral and graveside service, partly because I think my father needed us to be with him and partly because it was right for us to be there. Our younger cousins were also there, and the youngest was two.I remember we both went up to the open casket and said goodbye and all the grandchildren placed a flower on the casket graveside. My grandmother was distraught, but that didn’t seem weird to me since it was her husband. What stuck out the most was that it was the first time I saw my father cry. It wasn’t really uncomfortable for me, but I do remember it.
    My great-aunt passed when I was in high school. I was in a play so my mother wouldn’t let me go to the out of state services with her. She probably won’t ever forgive herself for making me stay home and not allowing me to say goodbye.
    We lost our cat when my brother and I were 16 and 20. Granted we were older, but I think my parents would have handled it the same no matter what age. We went as a family, said goodbye and cried together as she slipped away. She was part of us and it was important for us to all be there.
    My husband lost his dog when he was in college. He went to the vet with his mother, but she wouldn’t let him in the room as everything happened. I don’t know if he’ll ever really get over that.
    Sorry for the long response! I guess my point is, really think about it and do what will be right for your family several years down the road. Everyone will have an opinion, so try to weed out what doesn’t make sense for you and your child.

  15. I don’t have any experience on helping kids with death, but I do know what I experienced of death and funerals when I was a child.My Papap died when I was just over 3 and my parents took me to his funeral which had an open casket.
    I remember touching his face and saying it was cold (or at least I’ve formed a memory because my mother told me this).
    For my mother it was comforting to her to have me there at her father’s funeral. I certainly know that I wasn’t disturbed or scarred by it in any way. I was too young to have a grasp of the concept of death, but I think that it helped me to understand. My ideas on open casket are much like Moxie’s. I went to a funeral as a teen without one and it really felt odd to me. It made the funeral less concrete if that makes any sense.
    My parents were always pretty matter-of-fact about the death of our pets. We always had funerals for them as well. I’ve always been sad about it, but dealt with it.

  16. The PP make superb comments.I would only add do *not* use the word “sleep” associated with death — e.g., “She looks likes she’s sleeping” (in her casket) or “We have to put the dog to sleep”. My parents used that word with me to describe a series of deaths that our family experienced when I was a preschooler. I was afraid to go to sleep for years, and as an adult, I still have some issues with it.

  17. I don’t want to over-intellectualize this, but others have offered lots of sensitive advice from a family perspective.So I just want to point out that it is only in our time that children are so sheltered from death. In the past (I’m thinking specifically of the 19th century in the US, but really anything prior to about 1950 would do), people routinely died at home.
    Children observed illness, death, and mourning as a part of family life and participated in the rituals involved. Those generations grew up to be happy, healthy, functioning people. The crucial thing, though, was that they understood these experiences as part of a social norm.
    So I am with Moxie – if you can project a comfortable, loving emotional state, then I think your child can navigate the funeral, the open-casket, etc. If you’re uncomfortable, s/he might also be uncomfortable, and you might have to do some extra work to explain and comfort.
    I also want to echo professor mama – as a child I remember the phrase “going away.” That was not a good choice, since it made me worry whenever someone left that they would never return. I like the phrase “helping her to die,” since it’s both generous of spirit and also honest.

  18. I brought my 4 yo to the open casket visitation hour at my grandmother’s funeral. This particular funeral home had a playroom with toys for kids, which is where my daughter spent most of the time. Friends and family I think enjoyed getting relief from the somberness of the main room by coming to hang out with my daughter there. Most funeral homes have at least one room that is not in line of the open casket. I don’t think I would take kids to a funeral home where that wasn’t a room like that for them escape to.That said, when the priest came in for prayerts, I did sit with her at the back of the viewing room. Basically that was as close as she was interested in getting, and so I left it at that.

  19. “The Tenth Good Thing About Barney” by Judith Viorst is a wonderfully sensitive kids’ book about the death of a family’s cat. In fact, *I* find it comforting. Children are also very interested in the logistics of death, that is, what happens to the body and so forth, and this book addresses that too (without going into too much detail). It is less overtly religious than some books on the topic — one of the characters says something like “if there’s a cat heaven, I know he’s there,” or something like that — I think this book would work well for almost any family, regardless of religious belief or non-belief.Seconding the PPs above who have encouraged people to use straightforward phrasing when talking about death, rather than terms like “putting to sleep.” Kids are so literal, and although the truth is painful it’s better to give it to them straight without phrases like “passing away” that may not be meaningful to them, or may give them the wrong idea entirely.

  20. I don’t often weigh in here but I feel the need to this time. My older son was 6 and my younger son was 18 months when my father passed away. He was dying of liver cancer for over a year and at the end he had hospice coming to the house. We were very sure when the end was near and both of my sons were laying in bed with their grandfather when he died. The last thing he said in this life was I love you to them. He hadn’t spoken in a few weeks at this point. They were both at the open casket wake and they were both at the graveside burial. At both places they said bye-bye to their papa, and that they loved him and knew he would be watching over them. I believe my mother in law was comforted by this behavior and my now 11 year (he was 6 at the time) remembers some of this and is happy that he was able to say good-bye. He has very fond memories of his papa. As I sit here and write this there are tears streaming down my face, I do believe that the boys handled the whole thing better than I did, and they continue to do so. I believe that the truth is ALWAYS the best answer and the original poster, do what is best for YOU. Open caskets creep me out and I will never have that, but I do understand the cultural traditions that surround it. I also second, third… the poster that says with the pets, do not call it sleep, many many issues surrounding that. Let the child say goodbye, either living or dead and if possible allow them to say goodbye after death. It helps to concrete the idea they are no longer going to play lick look at them afterwards.

  21. Ugh, that was my father-in-law, not my father. Things will nt go well wen my dad dies because I am pretty sure that am going to fall apart.

  22. In my husband’s family (Catholic), the kids attend everything. Cousins attended my daughter’s funeral, and for the great- and grandparents that have died, they also have attended.They also place pictures and letters and sometimes a toy they want to give up in the casket.
    And there are designated adults who take them into ajointing rooms/entry ways to play if they need to burn off steam.
    I personally think this is a healthy and good tradition, so we’re falling right in line. I am not creeped out by dead bodies though; I may have been in the past (my family’s style was a quick cremation and memorial service afterwards, so no body at all). But after some recent experience, I think a body after death is just that – a part of someone that is left behind and can be bathed and cared for, kissed and said goodbye to.
    But, that’s not you. If it bothers you and you don’t want to bring your son, then leave him home. I wouldn’t, however, assume that he’s going to have the same reaction you did in your teens – he might, but I’m guessing he probably won’t. He might, however ask a LOT of questions over and over, so line up your answers. 🙂
    On the pet issue, I think people have covered it well.
    On death in general, if you have a kind of “well we don’t really know what happens” perspective, this book (sadly hard to find) is wonderful: http://www.amazon.com/death-book-Pernilla-Stalfelt/dp/0888994826/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1224594145&sr=1-2

  23. My mother died in August after being diagnosed with a brain tumor six months prior. I was mid-pregnancy when she was diagnosed and the baby was born a few weeks before she died. I also have a son who was three at the time.While I was age-appropriately honest with my son about what was happening through the entire illness and death, and he visited her regularly, I didn’t think it was appropriate (for our family situation) for him to come to the funeral home. He would not have benefited and I would have been distracted. Also I think he would have been disruptive to the greiving of other folks as well.
    The casket was closed, and for our situation that was what was best for us. She no longer looked like herself and we wanted people to remember her as she was and not as the disease had left her. I also think she would not have wanted people gawking over her and noting how she’d been ravaged, either, so I think it was the right decision for us and it felt more respectful. We had a lovely collage and some other photos.
    The family was offered the opportunity to view her body before they sealed the casket for the visitation and service. Some of us chose to, some did not. Most of us had been with her at the moment of death so it wasn’t an act of denial or repression to decline seeing the body. I chose not to because I didn’t want that to be my last memory of seeing her, and I think that is okay. It doesn’t make her death less real to me.
    I did take the baby to the visitation/funeral (all in one day, and arranged very quickly) since we were nursing and I honestly found great comfort in holding him – he slept the entire time, but I did ask someone else to hold him during the actual service so I could be free to focus/hold family members’ hands, etc. Most people had not seen the baby yet and I worried that he would be a distraction, but it worked out just fine.
    My older son didn’t express any desire to go, he had seen her at her bedside before she died to tell her he loved her (and to let her do the same) but we didn’t present it as a final goodbye. I explained to him that she died and had to explain that it meant her body didn’t work anymore and so forth, and he has been okay with it. I don’t think the funeral would have added any value for him.
    But that’s just my individual circumstance – you have to do what feels right to you. I’m so sorry you have to ponder these tough decisions, Ally, and sorry for the loss of your mother last year.

  24. My then-4 year old (La) attended my MIL’s funeral. She had Alzheimer’s when she died (stage 6 or 7?) So we talked about (mostly to the then 13 year old, but La was around too) about the pros and cons of it all (pro: She really couldn’t remember much and her health was failing and so now she doesn’t have to deal with that anymore, con: we’ll miss her.)The funeral/memorial service was closed casket – we brought La and she did fine (as did her other cousin who is 6 months older).
    There is no shortage of family and friends around – it can be one of those “it takes a village” moments for everyone.

  25. It’s funny how Ask Moxie posts always seem to come around right when you need them most. This is particularly timely for me, because my mother-in-law is currently in the end stages of metastatic breast cancer–she is receiving hospice care at home and has probably a month or less to live. My daughter will be 2 in a month, and while she will definitely come to the funeral with us (it will be out of town, and we have no one here we can leave her with overnight anyway), and we will be honest with her when the time comes, as far as she’s able to understand, I’m struggling with whether to prepare her or not. So far we haven’t said anything–my feeling is that too much talking about “Grandma’s sick” might freak her out about being sick–but then, she’s young enough that she won’t really get the loss, since Grandma isn’t a daily part of her life.Does anyone have any suggestions for picture books explaining death to children that do not have a religious basis? Again, I think she’s young enough that simply telling her “Grandma died” will be enough to satisfy her for the time being, but I’m at a loss for what to say if and when she asks more questions (she’s a very verbal kid), since we are not religious.

  26. I can’t speak to open caskets, having been to more memorials than funerals and those funerals all being closed caskets (culturally Jewish! Hi!)Re: euthanizing pets, I second Moxie. Also, our dog was euthanized by a vet who did housecalls for that last visit so that your pet would die peacefully at home, not at the vet’s office which is often a stressful place for pets. You may want to ask your vet if he or she will do that. I wouldn’t let your son see the process though, until he’s old enough to understand that the shot the vet is giving your dog is in no way the same as the vaccines your son gets from the pediatrician.

  27. I tend to agree with the honesty is the best policy approach with pet deaths- but if that’s not for you…. when I was four, our 8 year old St. Bernard had to be put down unexpectedly. My parents said nothing about it. Not for two weeks! And I didn’t even notice. Then I noticed a can of dog food on the counter and asked if I could help feed Rufus his dinner – and that’s when my parents told me. I remember crying that night but being pretty well over it by the next day, with just lots of questions. I’m not sure if that makes me a really insensitive kid, but I don’t recall it being all that traumatic. Not saying that’s the right way to go… but I turned out fine 🙂

  28. I’m very sorry to hear of these trying times for your family. I think death is such a challenge to process at any age. I just wanted to add that my grandmother died when I was 5 and my parents took us to the visitation and funeral (held on the same day b/c it was Christmas Eve). I remember being completely fascinated by my grandmother’s body and standing and staring at her in the casket. I also remember telling everyone that she was wearing her favorite dress. All this to say that as a young child, I was not bothered and/or confused by the scene. On the other hand, I discinctly remember having to go to some open casket visitations as a teenager/young adult and being incredibly uncomfortable and almost sick. Now as an adult, I haven’t been bothered as much. All that to say, you may find that your 4-year old is not affected in the same way that you are. I do like Moxie’s perspective though that if you are uncomfortable, that may show through to your son. My thoughts would be that as long as he has an age-appropriate explanation as well as an opportunity for some sort of goodbye or closure that works for your family, it should all be fine. Good Luck!

  29. @electriclady, I too worried about using the term “sick” so I chose to tell my son that his grandma “has a disease called cancer” and the disease made grandma die – I think that went over better with him than the word “sick” would have. Hope that might be helpful.

  30. I come from a large Irish Catholic family. Attending wakes and funerals is expected. In the last 20 years or so, people bring their children of all ages. They don’t make a point of taking the little ones up to view the open casket, but they also don’t discourage a child who wants to.My youngest daughter was 3 when my grandmother died; 5 when my dad died. She was very close to both of them. She needed to be with her family as they mourned. Most of the mourners do believe in God and heaven, which makes it easier to talk to children about death.
    As far as I know, none of my siblings or cousins have regretted bringing their young children to the funeral home and the funeral mass. Most of my relatives or their spouses served in the military. They are buried in Calverton, a huge military cemetery on Long Island. You do not see the coffin being lowered into the grave.

  31. Many funeral homes now have a playroom where young children can enjoy themselves. Usually their parents take turns watching them. That way parents can decide how much exposure is appropriate for their kids.

  32. When I was probably about 5, I went with my family to my great-grandmother’s funeral. I honestly don’t remember if it was open casket or not. I don’t remember most of the details. I think this is mostly due to my bad long-term memory.But I did want to say that I do remember two things:
    -I was very sad I wouldn’t see her again.
    -The great-grandkids went in a car together from the funeral service to the burial (driven by an adult), and the older ones started telling jokes and we were laughing. (We stopped by the time we got out of the car at the cemetary, because we knew my mom would be pissed if we got out laughing at that sobbering time.)
    There was something about being able to laugh and still have a good time with my siblings and cousins that eased the sadness in my beloved great-grandmother’s death.
    So I just wanted to suggest that if you bring young kids to a funeral (which I think can be very important), be sure to let them have time to still have fun and remember their relative in good ways, not just sad ways. I hope that makes sense.

  33. I read somewhere–maybe here, probably here–about when answering questions about sex at this age, it’s best to keep it short, simple, and true. That children don’t necessarily want (or need) explicit detail. They just need a respectful, true response. So I think that applies nicely here, as well, in regards to death.Ally, I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother and dog. Best wishes.

  34. I agree with what k said (@8:08am), that we shouldn’t hide death from children because what they imagine can be far worse. I’m so sorry for your loss, k.I also liked Fiona’s comment (@9:19am) about the historical perspective. These days we are so sheltered from death, I absolutely agree. We Americans really don’t like to deal proactively with the inevitable. How many of us actually have a will? A guardianship nomination to appoint someone to care for our children should we predecease them? Our long-term care lined up? I confess I don’t. But I should. Now I’m getting off topic…
    My own experience sounds so similar to what Mary Joan Koch describes (@11:06am) – Irish and Irish-American Catholic family with open caskets, & kids present at wakes and funerals. The year I was 5 & 6 years old, three of my grandparents died; 2 died very suddenly (heart attack & car accident), the other died of lung cancer several months after getting the diagnosis. I remember all of their funerals as these happy family reunions. They’re actually really good memories for me. Many of the family photos of everyone & their mom were taken at these very funerals. There is sometimes joy to be had with the pain.
    The body of my grandfather who was killed in a car accident had to be kept in a closed casket, and strangely, I now find that he is the most difficult of my 3 deceased grandparents for me to remember. Because I remember my other grandfather so well, and seeing his corpse. I touched his cold hand, and pulled back his sleeve a little and saw how the skin looked purplish under there. And I can still recall his lovely cologne. Is this too morbid? I’m sorry. As I said, these are good memories of mine. I guess my point is that kids can experience corpses in the open casket and grow up to be well-adjusted people with a healthy relationship to death & dying.
    My aunt died of lung cancer a few years ago at the age of 40 (she was a heavy drug user and a lifetime smoker). About 25 family members came to say goodbye while she was dying in the hospital. My cousin played guitar, people laughed and talked, we drank, all while her corpse was lying there in the hospital bed. DH and I had been dating only a few months at the time, and he was totally weirded out. He thought we were all a bunch of crazy people! So my dad told him his favorite joke. Q: What’s the difference between an Irish funeral and an Irish wedding? A: One less drink. (No offense to my Irish peeps!)
    About the dog dying, is it odd that this concept is somehow harder & sadder for me than a person dying?! (Yes, that’s odd!) I wish hedra’s sister could be our dog’s vet. We moved recently and had to find a new vet, and that’s what I looked for – someone who was sensitive & kind enough for me to feel I could bawl my eyes out in front of them when that sad, inevitable day arrives.

  35. I’m a vet, and I second the comment to avoid using the term “put to sleep” with a child.”Helped to die” is much better, because there is no confusion with other things, and children have no preconceived prejudice against euthenasia so accept it easily, IME. And I would absolutely agree that seeing the body is usually helpful; at least here in England, a vet would always allow that unless the body was too unsightly. My children (10 and 14) have seen the demise of a gazillion pets, plus seen me put down various animals at work, and are very matter of fact about it. As long as you are truthful and open, I don’t think you can go far wrong. Some people find keeping a lock of hair from the pet, or having the ashes returned, to be very helpful in grieving; others don’t. It can be very helpful to discuss your vet’s usual procedure ahead of time to see what other options (home visit, timing, etc) you have. I’m sorry.

  36. When my son was 3 or 4 and asked lots of questions about death, I hit on an answer that worked well when he asked “Are you going to die?” I said, “Not until I’ve lived my whole life.” Or maybe he asked “Will I die?” and I said “Not till you’ve lived your whole life.” Honest, but comforting.

  37. My approach is to talk openly (although I do simplify things a bit) with my 4 year old about death and other heavy topics.That said, TALKING about death is much different than experiencing my whole crazy family crying and carrying on at a funeral.
    It just doesn’t feel appropriate. I realize people say “grief is a natural part of life” – but I think my 4 year old would be traumatized. Not by the body or the casket or the concept of death. But by observing the grief of all the grown-ups. It doesn’t seem healthy to me. So, no funerals for DD until she gets older.

  38. My grandfather died last September, and the family gathered from across the country for a memorial service (body had been cremated). After some hand-wringing about it I chose to not take my 4-y-o to the service, but that was for my sake, not hers — we are not church-goers, and I didn’t know how well she’d be able to sit through the service. Selfishly, I also wanted to be able to take care of myself without worrying about her, or having to leave the service with her, etc.We did talk a lot about the fact that he was dying during his illness, and that he died once it happened. I remember sitting on the back porch with my daughter during this time and explaining it to her, and sharing my memories of him and things I’ll miss about him, while I cried and laughed at the same time. I think it was important to her to experience that part, the acknowledgement of the loss and the emotion — I tried to be really open about that.
    Some months later she said to me, as I tucked her in, “I’m thinking about Papaw,” and I asked her what she was thinking — and she said, “it’s sad he’s not with us anymore, but he had a long, good life. It’s OK.” I felt then that I’d probably handled this reasonably well.

  39. We had to euthanise our pet dog this summer after he bit my MIL ( I was not going to have that dog around to maul my offspring). It was a hard decision to make, especially for my husband who had had him for 9 years or so and was very attached, but we really had no choice. No dog shelter was going to take an old, unstable dog. IN the end, we told our kids what parents have been telling their kids, or something similar, for generations: ‘Toby is going to a farm where he can run around all he likes’. Noah who was 3.5 at the time still tells people he ‘has’ a dog and that it lives on a big farm where it can run around more than in our back yard.

  40. When my beloved childhood dog died at age 18 (126 in dog years!!!!!), our vet allowed our family to hold her while he administered the injection so we were able to say goodbye and help her on her way very intimately. It was wonderful, in retrospect — awful at the time. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. FWIW, we had her cremated privately so we have her ashes. In a shoebox in the coat closet, but whatever …When my beloved grandfather died when I was 16, I saw him the evening before he died but not afterward. The memory of his condition that night is worse than if I had seen him at peace after he died. He was cremated, but I almost wish he’d had an open casket so my last visual memory of him is not so anguished. We also have his ashes. In a (somewhat larger) shoebox in the coat closet. I don’t know what else to do with it!!
    So, nothing much to offer Ally but a data point and encouragement. Short, simple & true seems the way to go. Good luck.

  41. My 4-yo did very well last fall at a memorial for my dear great aunt. Aunt E’s family very kindly gave her a little job to do, handing out the programs for the service, and she took it very seriously and did a great job. The part that bothered her the most was that my mom, who was very close to her aunt, was extremely upset and sobbed through most of the service. Mouse hadn’t seen a grandparent do that before, but I don’t think it was necessarily bad for her–the fact that grief exists, affects grown-ups too, and that it’s OK to express it, is important.I also wanted to share a sweet thing that Mouse’s preschool director did when her dog died of old age. (All the kids knew the dog and were fond of him but of course it’s not quite the same as a family pet.) After explaining what happened and letting them ask questions, she asked the kids to draw a picture of Barney, to remember him. They made a little memorial collage and it seemed to help Mouse process it.

  42. On reading the comments ( sorry,today commented first then read later) I realise my comment might have sounded cold and insensitive in respect to the animal and towards my children too. The fact is, I was never fond of my husband’s dog and had always feared him around my children ( he often growled at the kids and even tried to attack one of our neighbours). They, btw, were not at all attached to him either. I know if the situation had been different, if he had been a much loved pet, I probably would have gone with more of an accurate account of what was to happen to him out of respect to him and the kids.

  43. I’m sorry for your impending losses. On the funeral, I went to my grandmother’s open casket funeral a few months after turning 3. I do not recall being traumatized. I have very vivid memories of the whole funeral home experience (I was most fascinated by the little dimly lit room for family only), but the open casket was not bothersome, just interesting and unusual. I remember talking about how we would see grandma one more time, but she would look like she was sleeping. That what made her grandma was gone, and that part would live as memories, and we could talk about those any time. This was a time to say goodbye and to be with our family. I remember thinking the body didn’t really look like her (they did her hair wrong, and they didn’t put her glasses on her).I’d also suggest that your view at 14 with more history and attachment is probably pretty different than the view at 4. It was definitely harder for me to go to funerals by the time I was in high school, but I still don’t have bad memories of the earlier ones.
    There’s a book about pet loss called “The 10th Good Thing About Barney” that was very comforting to me as a young child. I think my mom applied some of that to the grandma situation. My grandmother’s death was sudden, so I assume my mom had to do some thinking on her feet on that one.
    My mom put our animals down without involving us, and that always made me mad. I know now that part of her reasoning was so that we wouldn’t see her cry too, but jeesh, way to come home from school to be told “I put so and so down today. It was time.” I regret not being able to say goodbye to my 2 cats and 2 dogs (one had Cushing’s disease as well). I think the advice to talk to your vet is a good one.

  44. These are great comments. Thanks everyone. Something I deliberately left out of my question is that this side of my family is a large, Italian Catholic one and having an open casket and kids running around the funeral home is normal. Which is why I was thinking this was more about my issues with open caskets. After talking to my aunt this morning I think what we’ll do is bring him to the beginning of the evening viewing. We’ll give him the choice to see the body or not, but I do want him to have a chance to say goodbye. I think experiencing death and grieving – in a safe, age-appropriate way – is important as is understanding what the family’s expectations are. I agree with whoever it was that said children are more shielded from death now than they’ve ever been. I went a great deal of my childhood without experiencing death close hand but that was partly because my parents were very young. As a teenager and 20-something I lost many, many extended family members (mostly great aunts and uncles) and it is comforting to know what happens in a practical sense after someone dies. That you go to the funeral home and stand around and then the next day you go to the funeral and then the cemetery and then you eat, etc. I also remember being very upset when my great-grandma passed away and my grandparents wouldn’t take me to the funeral home even though I begged. I think I was 8 at the time. So there is a part of me that thinks Jamie should share this experience as much as is appropriate.When my mom died there was a little lead-in to it as she was in the hospital for a few weeks and he and his dad dropped me off and picked me up there a couple of times. He knew she was sick I explained that sometimes when you’re really, really sick the medicine doesn’t work and you die. But after crying for about 5 minutes and saying he wanted to see her, he hasn’t been sad since (and I asked). But that was 6 months ago and he’s a little older and he sees my grandma more often than he saw my mom.
    As for the dog, this has given me a lot to think about. My gut tells me he should see Cory after he dies because it will mean such a big change in his day to day life. I want to try and avoid any confusion about the fact that he’s gone. But I don’t think he is old enough to be in the room and the person who mentioned not being able to tell the difference between a vaccination and the euthanasia shot makes a really good point. Maybe I’ll have my husband take Cory and then we can go see him afterwards. The thought of Jamie waiting in the waiting room just creeps me out for some reason.

  45. I recently learned that when my cousin had to put pets down when her children were younger, they would take them to be euthanized early in the morning and then bring the bodies back to be “discovered” as a family. This creeped me out, but I guess it was before the days of having the vet come to your home, and they felt it was OK to talk about death but too much to try to explain why you would put the animal down.There is a related story that includes the phrase, “We don’t do chickens,” but that is for another day.
    Not my cup of tea, but I thought I would throw it out there.
    Hope you can find a solution that works well for you and your family.

  46. If you’ll allow one more personal story–My grandmother, who my daughter knew fairly well, died Nov.2. We waited a while for the visitation for that one to give family members time to come in, and so the first day was Nov. 6 (Polish Catholic, probably a pretty similar attitude to funerals as Magda grew up with). The morning of Nov. 7, my MIL died unexpectedly. I literally had to ask that his family not have the visitation for her until Sunday so I could attend my grandmother’s funeral on Saturday.We did take both kids to everything, under some pressure from my mom. My brother and SIL and all my cousins did the same, and Maggie LOVES my oldest nephew with all her heart and soul so my grandma’s funeral was actually fun for her. My parents brought a big bunch of art supplies for the kids to play with in the “family room,” there was room for them to barrel around the “family only” visitation day, and it was much more fine than I expected.
    When we gave her the news about my grandma, I just said she had died and that she had gone to heaven to live with God. She was 96, so Maggie already understood she was very very old. Apparently she did say to my husband one night “My grandparents (his parents) are getting old too, are they going to die?” When we told her about my MIL, she thought we were kidding (“noooo, it was Gigi that died!! giggle giggle”) until we explained it a little more. We didn’t go into details about her death, although we would have answered questions honestly.
    With regard to the casket, at both funeral homes she had a time where she barreled up almost to the casket, enough that I stopped my conversation and went running after her for fear she’d run into it. Both times she stopped short and almost backed up, like she was scared (I should add they both looked HORRIBLE). We told her that those were the bodies, but heir souls which is what makes us us, is living in heaven.
    It’s come up a few times since then, mostly out of nowhere she’ll say “Grandma E died.” and then start talking about the funeral and how everyone was sad.
    She was just shy of four, like a month almost exactly. My son was nine months at the time and was a happy distraction, especially at my MIL’s funeral. A lot of the family hadn’t met him yet and he is at a super cute smiley stage, so I think he helped cheer them up a little and give them something good to focus on at a tough time. And he and my SIL who was closest to my MIL pretty much fell in love at first sight, so that was great because it helped make her feel happier.
    So it was tough on everybody, but kids don’t see this the same way we do, and their presence lends a certain air of “life continues and fmaily continues” to the proceedings.

  47. I’m so sorry that you are going through all of that…About Cory, I think you should trust your gut and would second the recommendation someone made above about finding a vet who makes housecalls. When we had to put down my sweet cat, Kittenhead, a few months ago I didn’t want to shield the kids from the idea of death, but I also didn’t think that they could handle the idea using “special medicine” to euthanize her. I was worried that, for them, it might translate into a fear of doctors, medicine, etc.
    We had been telling the boys for a few days that Kittenhead was very old and very sick, and probably wouldn’t live much longer. The 5-year-old seemed to understand that.
    When the day came that we felt it had to happen, the vet and I scheduled a time to meet at my house. My husband took our two boys (5 and 2) out to the playground for a while. I called my husband at the playground when the vet had left, and he told the boys that Kittenhead had died. They came home to see her little body, right where she had been on the bed, but clearly not alive. My older son held her for a little while and then we buried her in the yard under a big flat stone. I think it was important that they could spend time with her body, so they could really absorb that she was not still alive. I’m so grateful that our vet was able to do that for us–aside from the benefits to my kids, I was glad that Kittenhead got to spend her last moments in a familiar place.

  48. I didn’t know until reading today’s comments that some vets make housecalls! What a wonderful development.@Ally – I think you should go with your gut on both counts. You have my sympathies for all of your losses.

  49. My grandfather died when I was 6 (actually on my birthday, starting a chain of grandparents dying around my birthday, but that’s another story). I attended the funeral, as did my 3 year old sister, but neither of us really remember it.Four years later, my 16 month old brother died (unexpectedly, in a tragic accident when he got out of the house and drowned in the pool) and we also, obviously, attended his funeral, which was an incredibly traumatic experience, although I think if it weren’t traumatic, that would be very strange. What I most distinctly remember from the services was that his body was cold and that was just wrong. That wrongness, in retrospect, really hits at the cosmic injustice of what happened, but that was my experience with funerals as a kid.
    Last year, when my aunt’s mother died, I talked to my 4 year old about it, but I decided to send her to preschool that day rather than take her to the service. Part of that was convenience, I guess, since I was the musical entertainment/distraction for the service, but part of it was that I felt she was old enough to understand that Fran had died and gone to heaven, but that perhaps seeing Fran’s body would have confused her (it was an open casket). Also, there were no other children there, except for my then 6 month old baby. She asked some questions and periodically will ask if I think Fran is happy in heaven, but is otherwise fine.
    I’ve got nothing on pets, sorry.
    For the record, I do not recommend “The Fall of Freddy the Leaf.” Some well meaning person gave us that book when my brother died and I absolutely hate it. Of course, maybe I’m letting my feelings about the situation cloud my opinion of a perfectly harmless book, who knows.

  50. I have a four year old and my mother-in-law died of advanced ovarian cancer this past May. After consulting with a renowned child development expert I decided to take my son to the funeral and also to the cemetery. It is important for children to be able to understand the finality of death, and to understand where the body goes when it dies. We basically explained my MIL’s illness as her having a “disease”– that this was different from being “sick” and that she was going to die. When she actually died we explained that her body stopped working and that it was like she had had her batteries taken out (toy analogy). My son really seemed to get this and the child development expert felt that it often was a good thing for preschool children to go to the cemetery b/c they are such concrete thinkers and by doing do they are able to see where the body goes. The one thing she suggested is that we have another family member w/whom my son is close to care for him during the funeral and service at the cemetery, so that we did not have to worry about him and he did not have to worry about us. We also tried to be very open about our grieving– if my husband was sad he would cry in front of my son or if my son heard my husband crying downstairs I would explain what was going on. At the same time, we explained my husband’s sadness, reassured my son that he would be alright, and told him that we did not plan to die for a long time (in response to his questions).And, as an aside, I am also Jewish and have a different experience of Jewish funerals. I have never felt that kids are not welcome to either jewish funerals or shiva. In fact, kids are often a welcome addition to a shiva call as they bring joy (except perhaps at the solemn service every evening).

  51. I saw my great-grandmother in her casket at age ten or so. Freaked me right the fuck out. Last year at a funeral for a friend of my husband’s it was basically formed upon us to go individually to the open casket and look. Freaked me out too. Very disturbing.I don’t think small children belong at funerals. I’ve gotten sitters for my kid when we’ve had to go. It’s like weddings and church and work meetings. They just can’t sit there quietly and participate.

  52. On the open-casket question, I just wanted to add my personal take. I didn’t attend a funeral until I was 30 (just luck: the few–maybe 4–people whom I knew who had died prior to that didn’t have funerals). I have to say, the thing that sticks with me about open-casket funerals is that is the only way I can remember those people without looking at pictures. When I try to recall them, the image that comes to mind is a body in a box, not a laughing, loving person. But that’s my issue.

  53. I read a few of the posts and then had to really think about this. My first reaction comes from my heritage, I’m Jewish. Kate from 2:03 am, what are you doing up at that time? I digress; Kate has nailed the whole Jewish way of handling death.Children are traditionally not allowed at a Jewish funeral or a Shiva unless it was their parent. After reading some of the posts I began to think about my educational perspective and my heritage, the two didn’t match. So I began to think about all the deaths in my life. Two of them came out of the blue when I was very young. One was my cousin who died at 16. He got very sick at a basketball game and passed out. He died two days later of acute leukemia. About 6 months after that my beloved favorite aunt died. What I remember most was the phone rang and then my father began to wail. As a child I’d never heard him cry and certainly never like this. I stayed awake that night imagining the worst. I made things up about illness and death and those made up images haunted me for a long time.
    I haven’t read all the comments and someone may have said the following.
    I believe you need to tell the truth to a child and I believe you need to let the child lead the rest of the way. Tell them in preschool size words. The books mentioned are wonderful and will help with that part. See if the child has any questions and then observe them to see how they deal with the news and to see if they can handle attending the funeral, if that’s permitted by the way your family handles death.
    I’ve never been to an open casket funeral, however I firmly believe that your comfort level with this is key. Your comfort level will tell your child what he needs to know. He will see by your comfort, acceptance and tears that this is what we do when someone dies.
    My grandmother died in my arms when my youngest was 3. He was such a comfort to me. He seemed to intuit what I needed at the time. Your children can bring you great peace and comfort as you grieve. Wee ones can be very sweet and may help to remind you about birth and death and the cycle of life.
    I hope you find comfort as you deal with all of this.

  54. @Eva – I’m sorry you felt forced to see a dead body in an open casket, which was something you definitely didn’t want to see either as a 10-year-old child, nor again as an adult. It sounds like open caskets are not part of your cultural norm. When you were a child, it sounds like you could’ve really benefited from a caring adult’s acknowledgment of your terrified feelings. BTW, it’s never too late to get that in a therapeutic setting. It would have been nice if someone had given you a choice in the matter.I can understand why some people believe children should not be present at funerals. I echo everyone else here who has said it’s really all about the cultural norms and the parent’s comfort level with them. Personally, I feel lucky to have been raised in such a way that absolutely nothing about funerals scares me, and I can move cross-culturally within various grief traditions without any phobias. I think it’s worth remembering that funerals, like life, are really for the living. If you don’t think you are going to best honor the memory of someone by attending their funeral, then it’s ok not to go.

  55. Completely agree with Moxie on open casket. We exposed our children to it and it was no problem. They “got” it, ages 3 and 4.But, FYI we once buried a beloved cat who had been put down. I figured we didn’t need to use a shroud or box of any sort – dust to dust, you know? But when we started to cover up the cat’s body, my oldest (5 at the time) started sobbing because his beautiful fur was getting dirty. I have to admit, it was far sadder that way and I wished we’d covered him or given him a box of some sort.

  56. I wanted to really thank people for their comments. Although my husband and I lost several grandparents since we’ve been together, none were when the kids were at an age where it had to be discussed with them–but the last remaining member of that generation, DH’s grandmother, is 96, and our kids do have a special relationship with her.@ lynn, I hope you don’t mind that I am going to borrow your phrasing. That is something that I think my 4yo would really worry over (the how long).
    @ Jamie, like I said, I was speaking from a very traditional/Orthodox Jewish perspective that is further colored by my experience of marrying into a German Jewish family–in my ILs community women do go to the funeral but not to the burial, which is certainly not how it is in other communities. (My family is not nearly as religious; my maternal grandparents were cremated, which is not something that happens in the Orthodox world.)
    @ Sharon: I feel like my late night ramblings kind of gave the Jewish rituals surrounding death the short shrift because of my lack of explanation (there are good reasons, both spiritual for the deceased and psychological for the mourners, to have the burial happen ASAP after death). But it’s a lot to get into here.

  57. Coming in late, but I’m a vet and thought I might (actually) have something helpful to add regarding pet situations. Re: having children attend a euthanasia with you. If you’re going to be able to keep it together for your child, and your child is of an age where certain issues can be explained, I’m all for it. However, if yours is going to get euthanasia mixed up with vaccinations, as a PP mentioned, it’s not appropriate. I’ve also had numerous families become very emotional, to the point that our receptionists or technicians have to help the children, and I worry about what they remember long term.I think art projects are very helpful for kids mourning pets; decorating a casket (sounds creepy a lot of families bring in caskets or boxes that the pet is going home in, all decorated with flowers), having a little memorial, altar-type thing set up for the pet that the child can revisit.
    On a slightly funnier note, I was helping a family say goodbye to their dog and we were discussing body care options. The husband wanted to have the body cremated, and get the ashes back, and the wife shot back, “What? So he can sit on the shelf in the closet next to your mother?”

  58. My husband died 16 months ago, when our son was 2 1/2. I have been upfront with him and explained things to him in a straightforward, age-appropriate manner. For those of you looking for a non-religious book for kids, I highly recommend ‘When Dinosaurs Die’. You can pick and choose the parts that are relevant to your situation.I agree that if *you* are comfortable with the situation, your child will be. My husband was cremated, and my son has been present at 2 of the ash scatterings that have occurred. My grandmother died 3 days after my husband, and she was buried. So, I have explained to him that when people die, they either get a ‘special box’ or become ‘special dust’. I don’t think my son really understands that the ashes are the physical remains of his father, and that is fine. My experience has been that children will ask questions, and it’s important to answer them in the plainest language you can.
    @k I’m so sorry about your partner.
    @lynn- I really like that answer- thanks!! My son is (understandably) worried about dying (‘because I would miss you, mommy’) and I have struggled to answer him in a way that seems honest and yet reasurring.

  59. I have a very large extended family, and my family has lived in this area for a LONG time, so we go to what seems like a ton of funerals for people that I knew, that watched me as a child and went to church with us, or are our friend’s grandparents and whatnot. I think that it is either a thing with my family or maybe just southern, but you get to pay respects to someone you barely know, because you need to be there for someone that is closer to you and to them. My daughter is two and has been to several funerals. She has no idea what is going on in that situation, and nobody minds- she gets passed around, proud grandparents and uncles tell who she is and people talk and chat. We don’t take her in the room with the casket unless it was somebody very close to us, but we always sign the book (I don’t generally go in where the casket is either, I am not generally freaked out by it, but it does make me uncomfortable somehow.)The first funeral that I went to as a child was when I was 10 and my great grandmother died. I put a dogwood blossom in her casket, and everyone told me I was very brave. I was freaked right out because that lady there? Looked nothing like my Grandma. But it did make an impression on me- Grandma W died and my Daddy cried and Woah, that is really weird. Daddy never cries. But it was good for me to see it, to understand that grief is a part of life and all.
    Around here it seems that “closed casket” means that something was wrong with the body, so people don’t like that much. Different cultures, I guess. And funerals happen fast too, like 3 days and done. The wake sometimes happens like a day later.

  60. Everyone is giving such great, thoughtful advice.My brother in law died unexpectedly three years ago when my oldest son had just turned five, and we had a six week old new baby.
    We took both kids to everything, family gatherings, viewing, funeral. Of course, the baby was too young to remember anything, but with my older son, we just made up our minds to answer all of his questions just like people suggested in the above comments- simple, honest answers, and never make it seem like he was somehow wrong to ask.
    It was hard. I agree with Fiona that we are so sheltered now from death. Our first instinct was to not talk about it, but we made every effort to answer all his questions and not hide things from him.
    I explained for both the viewing and the funeral that he would see people very sad and crying, because they loved BIL and were very sad that he died. And that it might be scary to see the grownups cry, but it was okay and normal for them to act like that, and that it was also perfectly normal for my son to cry or not, and when we got back to the house, I stressed that it was perfectly fine if he felt like laughing and playing with his cousins.
    He handled it well, and didn’t seem upset by the body. He respected what I said about however he felt was just fine, but that the funeral home and the actual funeral were not a place to play, but a place to be quiet and respectful.
    Sorry this is so long! But I have a bit more to say..
    Unfortunately, my mother in law and father in law died last year. My MIL on my son’s 8th birthday in June ( poor guy ) and my FIL 4 months later, ostensibly of pneumonia caught during a round of chemo for lung cancer, but probably more from his broken heart after losing his wife of 54 years.
    To touch on what Fiona was saying about how it was the norm in the past for people to die at home – my MIL had hospice care at home for pancreatic cancer and died in her bed, not surrounded by us, because we thought it was just another nap, but surrounded by a houseful of family having a Saturday gathering at grandma and papa’s just like she loved.
    We were able to sit with her body and cry and talk and say goodbye until the people from the mortuary came. The kids came in and out of the room, my eldest 8 and the baby now 3, and they were fine with it, holding her hand, being sad, laughing, comforting us. Honestly, it was the least creepy thing I have ever done; it felt so natural and peaceful and right to be there and say goodbye and provided such a sense of closure that I was very sad that my FIL died in the hospital and we weren’t able to have the same experience. ( It goes without saying that I would have much preferred no one died at all)
    Now, my three year old was much more rambunctious at the viewings than my older son was at that first one when he was five. It just depends on the family dynamics. I tried to keep my younger son from being too disruptive, and I worried about offending people until my husband told me that it “wouldn’t be grandma and papa’s house without some wild kids running around”. So it ended up being fine. My parents and a cousin took care of the three year old at the funerals so my husband and I could focus and mourn.

  61. It always seems easiest to me to take the path of least resistance. To me that means to let the children partake in the rituals of life and family. That way, they learn to live with it, and it’s not this HUGE thing looming over their heads when they get older.I remember when I was barely 6 years old. A child of a neighbor died and I went along to the funeral. It all seemed so surreal, even back then. They were all dressed in black, crying and throwing dirt into this whole in the ground. Nobody bothered to explain to me what exactly was going on. I just remember looking up at the big folks and feeling this dark cloud.
    Over the years, I have seen clients of mine handle death with their children in a variety of ways. But without fail, the attitudes of the adults always transfered to the children. If death is too much to handle for the parents, you can bet, it will be too much for the kids. Later on they won’t know why, they’ll just feel.So why not talk to them in a matter of fact way. Tell them why you’re feeling hurt (age appropriate language), tell them why others are feeling as they are. Just be careful not to use language like: He/she has gone to sleep and won’t come back. Etc. Kids are pretty literal and will be afraid.

  62. I took my then 3 yr old to an open casket funeral last year and he seemed to be okay with it. Honestly, I was freaked out more than he was cause I’ve got issues with open caskets. I can trace that back to when I was 10 and my grandmother died. The open casket at that funeral messed me up for a while. But then again, I don’t remember my parents talking to me about it at all. I think that probably would have helped a lot.

  63. I was going to second or third the recommendation to find a vet who makes housecalls. Ours does, which was a great comfort when my almost-18-year-old cat was nearing the end of his life. He’d been terminally sick, took a sudden turn for the worse, and the vet was on her way over to euthanize him when he died on his own.I’d had a feeling it was going to happen, and had my three-and-a-half year old, Sam, say an extra-special goodbye to Puck that morning before going to preschool. I kept the explanation simple: Puck was very, very old, and he was going to die soon. It was time for his life to be over, and we’d always love and miss him. Sam said he was sad that Puck was going to die, and I said that I was sad, too. We both cried, but it felt right.
    I’d read that, with children this age, you should let them see the pet’s body if they ask, but don’t push it if they don’t ask. Sam didn’t ask, so we didn’t bring it up. He seems to get that Puck is dead and that dead is forever (we’ve been working hard to avoid euphemisms like “gone” and the like, and it’s surprisingly hard to do), though lord knows the myriad ways this idea could be ricocheting around inside his crazy preschooler brain.

  64. This is repeating what some others have said, but in my family kids are usually included at funerals, which are usually open casket. Fortunately, the funeral home we tend to use has a kids play room in a separate area, so the kids have a place to run around and the adults take turns watching the kids – which also gives the adults a break from the wake/viewing. For the kids in my family, it’s not so much the body, but more the long very boring time spent in a funeral home that bothers them.I do agree with the point about kids doing OK when the grown ups are handling it well. The one exception we had was a suicide – no little ones at that funeral – the adults were too upset.
    And yes, many vets do make housecalls – I’ve paid the extra money for home euthanization twice (once in NJ and once in NYC). Not only was it kinder to the (very ill) pet, but we were free to be total emotional wrecks without having to drive or try to get home afterward. In both cases, the vet took the remains and arranged for cremation. We had the choice of getting the ashes back. One of the vets also brought that clay you use to make handprints and made a pawprint before she took the cat away. Very kind of her.

  65. My son is a 3 and hald yrs old. We have never expose him to any death. But lately he keep asking: ” Am I going to die or are we all going to die?” It really scared me why he ask such depressed question? And how did he know about all this?

  66. Do you know what I see as the biggest probelm with people changing their diet/lifestyle? Until their health goes to pot or something drastic happens they don’t want to change.Why? Because they are lazy. I liked what the lady who had cancer said. Basically she said how do you expect a different result when you keep doing the same old thing. Our society is lazy they just want to take a pill and have everything get better. Just ask for the purple pill remember that commercial? I think it was for prilosec, what I do remember is that people were going to the doctor and asking for the purple pill even though they didn’t know what it did. Haha people are sheep.People also think that modern medicine has all the answers. The reason for this is people don’t know their history. They don’t know how and where modern medicine gained the knowledge that it has. Well guess what? The knowledge came from nature. Where did antibiotics, painkillers, and the ideas for every drug on the market comd from, nature. And why really would that be a surprise? We live in a world created by nature. Modern medicine has just figured out how to manipulate nature to an extent.The real goal is to have your body in top condition so you don’t need any help for the doctor. But that takes work, the gym and the kitchen and the garden. But people are to busy these days. Today we have computers, dishwashers, clotheswashers, microwaves, central air, gas furnaces, every convenience imaginable but nobody has any time. Whatever, we are each in control of our own destiny. We need to stop making excuses and also our society needs to quite accepting others excuses. If you are fat, not overweight or heavy then that means you eat to much and don’t excersise. Simple.Our society is lost when it does not view gluttony with contempt.

  67. We all want to give our loved ones the best send-off we can. But when someone pesass on, we don’t all have the cash required to give them a five-star luxury funeral. In fact, many of us find that funding a funeral is close to impossible, and worry that we won’t be able to say goodbye to our loved ones in the style in which they were accustomed.

  68. Talk with the funeral deicrtor, or possibly the manager. If you have some money to put down, then they should be able to help you. $5500 seems like a lot of money for a funeral. Could you also be adding in the cemetery costa as well? These are two separate bills. If you can work it out, the mortuary is usually able to work payment options out better than the cemetery. If your grandma belonged to a church, some times the pastor has a fund that can be used to help members of the church. This could either be an out right gift, or a loan. Either way when you are able you should repay the church, that way there is money available to help the next family. If things are really tight you may have to cut back on some of the expenses. Maybe a less expensive casket, shorter viewing period, a lower cost grave, maybe wait until later to purchase the marker. Funeral Directors and Cemetarians are willing to help families out, but you must be truthful with them, and have some type of payment plan in mind.

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