10. Children, the forgotten mourners

If children are involved, pay special attention to them at the funeral or memorial. Most adults are offered condolences, unfortunately children are often ignored - they need attention too. They are often the forgotten mourners. You might say to them "I'm sorry your (dad, mother, brother, sister) died. He (or she) was a special person. I'll really miss him (or her)."

Don’t expect much of a response from children who may be quite confused about their feelings and all that has happened. Giving them some attention can be enough. Later, send them special cards and invite them on outings. Children should not be shielded from grief, but occasionally they need a break from the sadness at home or they may need someone outside of the family to talk to. Don’t assume that a child who seems calm is not in pain.

Children know their own needs, though they may not express them as adults do. Don't expect them to do one big tell-all. A six-year-old may kick a soccer ball for an hour, because he's so angry that Dad died. A twelve-year-old may not say aloud that she misses her mom, but putting an arm around her when tears do arise is a good way to show you care. Show your love and support by accepting and responding to their individual ways of expressing emotions.

If you're unsure about whether or not to include them in certain events, ask them. They may even have ideas and wishes of their own. When children are allowed to express their normal feelings and behaviors of grief in their own way, they learn to adjust, and their future adult relationships won’t be adversely affected.

When Rachele died, our son, Tim, was an active three year old so we did not take him to the funeral, which in retrospect was a mistake. In his young mind he thought we had lost Rachele since he knew we had taken her to the hospital, but not brought her home. One day he excitedly thought he had spotted her on T.V. It was only after I took him to the cemetery to see her marker that it began to come clear. I compared life to an egg where the body is like a shell and now lay buried in the ground. But the real egg is inside, like the spirit of the little girl we knew as his sister Rachele, which was now in Heaven. This seemed to help him.