- BE HONEST! Children know when you're lying to them.
- Don't volunteer any information that they don't ask for (I later realized that this is exactly what the Sheriff's detective did with me). I didn't learn the details of Sarah's death until I read about them in the Sentinel the next morning. When in shock, the mind can only handle so much. It takes time to process what you've heard and then to be ready to hear more. So briefly tell them what happened and let them ask questions.
- If you don't know the answer to their question, tell them you don't know. It's OK to say "We may never know why their father did this." Don't fabricate an answer or assume that you know the reasons why it happened. In their eyes, you speak with authority and what you say is the truth.
- Don't blame God for what happened by saying things like "It was their time" or "God needed them in heaven." The thing that stood out most for me at Sarah's funeral was our pastor saying that God did not take Sarah, but that we could rest assured that he most certainly has received her.
- Allow them to go to the funeral if they want to do so. Don't force them to go if they don't want to, and don't underestimate their need to say goodbye to their friend, either at the visitation or the funeral. When we had Sarah's visitation, Katelyn raced to the side of casket to see her and talk to her. It took me close to 30 minutes (maybe it wasn't that long, but it felt like it) before I could come closer than 20 feet away.
- Don't tell them their friend or loved one is "sleeping." Depending upon the child's age, they'll be afraid to go to sleep or let you sleep.
- Encourage them to write a letter to their friend to send to their friend's family and tell them how much the person meant to them. Have them include favorite memories or draw a picture. Share any photos you have. Even though Sarah was only 2 years old, I sought out people who knew her and I drank in every memory of her that they shared with me. It helped to know that they loved and missed her too.
- Send flowers/cards or make a donation in the name of the deceased to a charity of the family's choosing. Include your child's name on the card. Allow them to contribute to the gift if they can.
- If the child lost an immediate family member, please consider New Hope's Center for Grieving Children. This incredible organization opened just a month before we needed their services. I don't think Katelyn & I would have coped with our loss had we not had this safe place to talk about what we were experiencing.
If you're a parent, it is critical that you help your child sort through the wide range of emotions they will feel when they've lost a friend or loved one. There will undoubtedly be anger, sadness, and fear, to name a few. If your child has a counselor, tell them what has happened so they can walk your child through the stages. Let his or her teachers know too. Your child may act inappropriately or revert to an earlier developmental stage because they simply don't know how to verbalize their feelings. It's your job to help them do this. The toughest part is that you're probably dealing with your own grief as well. But if you're determined to get your child through it, you'll both get through it.
And have a little mercy on yourself while you're at it! For your own mental health, make sure you take care of your needs too.
6/17: More advice from an article in the Sentinel here: http://tinyurl.com/ml45xm