What is being cremated?
Nearly three years ago, when our Niece and Nephew’s Mummy died, we attended her funeral on her 26th birthday. Niece and Nephew sat throughout the service on family members laps, watched their Uncle Adam make the most moving speech and witnessed endless family and friends shed many tears. At the wake, they ran around the field for hours upon end and made everyone who attended smile at how their Mummy lived on through them.
Whilst Niece and Nephew were, as always, absolutely amazing during their Mummy’s funeral, they didn’t ask a single question. They were only four and five. Did they even understand what was happening? Understand what a funeral even is? Maybe. Maybe not. Because of this, we are finding that more and more questions are being asked as the years go on.
As many of you probably know, we regularly have quite a lot of in depth conversations about our Niece and Nephew’s Mummy’s death. We often ask them how they are feeling, whether they have any questions and what they miss about their Mummy. But one question from Nephew really caught us off guard: where is Mummy’s body? Maybe we should have explained this to them prior to the funeral. But it was honestly not even on our radar. Her coffin wasn’t on display during the funeral and this probably meant that we were able to easily (but unintentionally) ignore that aspect.
Niece replied to Nephew and said that Mummy’s body was in the ground. Even though this is not the case as she was cremated, it showed that she has a good understanding which made us very proud. We responded by saying that Mummy’s body wasn’t buried and that we weren’t sure how to answer the question right now, but we will answer it soon. That was the truth. We didn’t have clue how to explain what cremation was! How do you explain that whole process without it sounding awful?! We needed time to do some research and decide together how we would explain it. Luckily, they were completely accepting of that.
So, like everyone else who has a difficult question that they need answering, we took to Instagram. There were so many great suggestions on how to approach explaining what a cremation is. Many focused on the ashes and what to do with them, which wasn’t really what we needed help with. We wanted to know how to explain what being cremated actually is. We wanted to be as factual as possible but also sensitive and age appropriate. Someone recommended National Cremation as source of information and advice. It was completely invaluable. Their website explained in such a clear and delicate way the best approach to take when talking to children about cremation.
Coincidentally, the day we sat down to explain cremation was Mother’s Day. Obviously that day will always be emotional for them. But it provided a good opportunity to bring the topic up again. We sat them down and explained that being cremated is a choice that some people make for when they die instead of being buried. We said that after the funeral, Mummy’s body went into a very warm room which turned her body into ashes. This made Nephew a little bit upset as he was worried about what had happened to Mummy’s body prior to being put into the warm room. He actually asked whether she had been chopped up beforehand. We reassured him that her body was safe in the coffin and it was in the coffin when it went into the warm room. Niece then asked whether ashes were kept in a jar. We explained that ashes were normally kept in something called an urn and that Mummy’s ashes were kept at Nanny and Grandad’s house. Their grandparents have not decided what to do with her ashes yet.
We learnt a lot from this experience. Firstly, that it’s okay to not answer a child’s question there and then. We really appreciated the fact that we could do some research and have a conversation together before we committed to what we were going to say. It also reaffirmed the importance of being truthful with children. It doesn’t ever protect them to ignore difficult subjects or answer untruthfully. Since explaining what cremation is they haven’t asked us about it again. But we know for sure that the little cogs in their mind will be processing it all. Hopefully they will feel secure enough to ask us any further questions when they are ready.