One day Elizabeth’s parents called her to the living room, where they sat next to her on the couch to share some very sad news. Her grandfather, Joe, was very sick. Doctors feared he wouldn’t live much longer. In order to prepare Elizabeth for the worst, her parents were forced to talk with her about death.
It was a conversation that continued long after Elizabeth’s grandfather died.
“Dead bodies feel no pain,” Elizabeth’s mother said. “Grandfather Joe can always be in our hearts.”
While the sorrow of losing her grandfather remained, Elizabeth, with the help of her parents, learned how to cope with her feelings by focusing on the joy that Grandfather Joe brought to her life and the memories they shared.
In dealing with death, parents must be frank and honest so as not to confuse their children. That’s why Billie Humphrey has written “Kids Learn about Death and Celebrating Life,” a guide for children coping with the death of a loved one.
Humphrey served as the grief management specialist with K.L Brown Funeral Home in Jacksonville for 19 years before recently moving to Texas. She understands better than most what children need in times of grief.
“Children understand and process death about the same as adults, except on a more simple level,” Humphrey said. “They deserve the same honesty, respect and assistance as adults.”
The book uses animal characters and colorful illustrations — drawn by Humphrey’s daughter, Nicole Humphrey, and cartoonist Bryan Stone — to tell Elizabeth’s story and her reaction to her grandfather’s death.
“Kids Learn about Death” is in English and Spanish, plus there is a worksheet in the back.
If Humphrey has a single bit of advice for parents, it’s “no sugar-coating.”
“Parents love their children and often shelter them by withholding information and not telling the truth and not involving them in funeral plans and family choices,” Humphrey said. “Children can handle real words like ‘died’ and ‘dead’ better than they can handle terms like ‘sleeping’ and ‘passed away.’”
Parents need to involve their children in the family decisions following the death of a loved one. This can be especially true when it comes to viewing the body before burial.
“They are comforted to find that their loved one looks so much better and more peaceful than when they visited them prior to their death,”
Humphrey said. “This gives the child a last impression that is generally much more comforting than the sick-bed impression.”
Death is a topic few feel comfortable discussing. But in the wake of grief, it’s often the children who are left behind. “The lessons learned early in life establish the foundation for coping throughout life,” Humphrey says. “And if children don’t get the proper attention, it can lead to unresolved grief that may last a lifetime.”
For all the confusion and sorrow surrounding death, when handled properly, it can lead down unexpected paths. It was the death of Humphrey’s grandfather when she was a child, and the kind treatment her family received from the funeral home’s staff, that sparked her interest in become a grief management specialist.
Now, with the publication of this children’s guide, she’s hoping to share that same joy, even in the midst of sorrow, with other young people.
“My dream,” Humphrey says, “is for this generation of kids to be sensitive and know how to help others through sickness, death and challenges.”
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Kids Learn about Death and Celebrating Life”
$10, available at Crow Drugs and the JSU bookstore in Jacksonville. Also available by mail order for an additional $2 for shipping and handling; contact Billie Humphrey at email@example.com.