We all process grief in our way. And when it comes to children, it’s an entirely natural instinct to protect the young ones from some of the harsher realities of life. That includes death.
But Anthony Quahliero, Co-Founder of Keystone Funeral Services, says children should not be kept away from mourning their loved ones or from understanding what has happened.
“The reason I say that,” he adds, “is that children, as they get older, have questions. If they are not answered early on, it can create psychological issues if not dealt with.”
When, say, a parent dies, children often wonder what happened to mom, where is she, why isn’t she coming home? “If they can see that person in death, then they can ask questions, and you just give them very simple answers,” Quahliero says.
When children are given simple, but honest, answers, they are then “not questioning as to whether you have lied to them or try to hide something from them,” he says. “It’s a much more positive interaction when the kids are able to come to the funeral home.”
Using his more than 40 years of experience in the funeral business, Quahliero suggests talking to children at their level. Most of the questions children ask him tend to be about why the body is cold or why the loved one who is dead has make-up on.
“You try to answer those questions very simply. You don’t have to explain it,” Quahliero says. “They don’t ask a second question; it’s just the initial question that they ask.”
He has “always believed” children should be allowed to see the family member who has died. “Even if you bring them in privately, they should come in and see the person who died,” he says.
One recommendation: “Bring them into the fold delicately.”
What Quahliero means is to allow children to be part of the funeral arrangements — ask them to pick out photographs to display or the music to be played. If the service or visitation hours are being held in a funeral home, allow children to open the door at the home to visitors.
“Now, they become part of the process and that takes the negativity out or the pain away for a moment. They are doing it for someone who is very close to them. It becomes an honor.”
He says families frequently ask him whether their children should be brought in to see their loved ones. He always recommends it, and often suggests that the children could be brought in for a private viewing, away from the regular visitation hours when more people would be there.
He says grandparents often understand this, and recommend to their children that the younger ones be allowed to participate. “The older folks still understand the steps that go into the funeral,” Quahliero says. “The cemetery was the final step in the closure. Once you left the cemetery, that was it.”
He understands parents’ natural desire to shield children so as not to upset them.
“Unfortunately, in this country, we don’t talk about death,” he says, adding things are getting better. “Now, there’s more dialogue, but it’s still not to the point where it needs to be.”
Another reason Quahliero recommends children being told the truth about death: “If adults paid attention to kids and how they handle death, oftentimes, they handle death better than adults. “