Let’s talk about death
A short while ago, we stumbled upon a statistic which stated that “nearly half (48%) of British adults agree that topics on death and dying should be taught as part of the compulsory primary school syllabus”. This intrigued us, so naturally, we conducted an Instagram poll. A whopping 93% of you voted yes, so we wanted to delve a little deeper into this subject. We had some brilliantly honest conversations with so many of you about the reasons behind your vote.
Let’s start with the stigma and taboo that surrounds death. Most children are very open about topics such as death and this is sometimes hindered by adults as they refuse to have these important, essential conversations due to feeling uncomfortable. How typically British of us. We live in this constant fear of saying things to children that may lead to a slightly challenging conversation. But children really do appreciate honesty and avoidance has the opposite effect. Children are so accepting and understand far more than we give them credit for. And many of you agreed with this.
Generally, many people, regardless of their vote, believed that it was not just the responsibly of schools, but adults as a whole to discuss death with children. Topics around death do tend to be covered in the RE, PSHE and Science curriculum and it is evident that teachers have plenty that they need to cram into the academic year. Therefore, all adults should have the responsibility of talking to children about difficult subjects as and when appropriate. But when is appropriate? Is it only appropriate when a child has experienced death? Or is it better to talk about death in normal conversation? Inevitably, it probably should be the choice of the important adults in the child’s life to decide how this conversation begins and for those adults to be in control of it.
What is the “best” way to talk to children about death? Is there a best way? We think not. It is completely up to the individual family on how they discuss death. But for us, there is no star in the sky or cloud in heaven. When Uncle and his Dad told our Niece and Nephew that their Mummy had died, they told them facts. We believe this has really helped them to understand death and hopefully helped them to process their bereavement. Particularly as their Mummy’s death was so sudden. However, for some families, these metaphors can provide comfort. We are not saying that how we do it is the right way; it’s just the right way for us. We also think that this helps our Niece and Nephew to express their emotions and know that how they are feeling about their Mummy’s death is perfectly okay. We will always communicate with them about their Mummy’s death and know that the more difficult conversations are yet to come.
Difficult questions are always going to have to be answered about death. For example, during our regular bedtime chat, our Nephew asked us where his Mummy’s body was. He wanted to know if it was still at the hospital. Our Niece answered this and said “it’s buried in the ground”. This is not true. We said this to them and told them that she was cremated. However, we found it really difficult to explain to them what this is. How do you explain that to children?! So we decided to say that we couldn’t explain it to them yet because they were a bit too young. Which, for us, is the complete and honest truth. Even though they attended her funeral they do not have a proper understanding; they were only 4 and 5 at the time. They also do not know that their Mummy’s ashes are at their grandparents. Until they decide to do anything with her ashes, we don’t think that bridge needs to be crossed just yet. Although we are all for taking about death, we think it can be easy to overwhelm children far too much. So many of you agreed that age appropriate discussions were needed.
The majority of people who voted “yes” had themselves experienced childhood bereavement or had had to support a child through a bereavement. It’s clear that this makes families far more open to talking about death. Whether this death occurs when the person is old or young, died suddenly or when they were old: bereavement is always life changing. One thing that stood out to us is that if someone did not receive the support they needed, then this generally had a negative impact. Conversations around death could help eradicate this. Talking about death is also so important for all children. This would enable children to empathise with and understand better what another child in their class may be going through. Could other children be part of their friends healing process?
Ultimately, death is a part of life and if, as adults, we are more open about this with children then they will (hopefully!) understand how to process this if they are ever to experience it during childhood.
Thank you so much to everyone who discussed this topic with us and shared their experiences and opinions.