Teaching Our Children About Death
Teachers have a tough job these days. They must teach acceptance in large classrooms of kids from diverse backgrounds. There has been a major shift in the past decade around human rights and what the system teaches as acceptable. I’m grateful that the education system has grown to accommodate and educate people of different demographics and lifestyles. The system however fails in two major areas, finances and death education.
Death and taxes are the inevitable circumstances which every one of us will face on more than one occasion throughout our lifetime. If you don’t pay your taxes, you get sent to jail. If you don’t understand death, the psychological consequences can feel equally as devastating. With the size of most urban schools today, many children will have a classmate, acquaintance, or family member die before they graduate.
Even if they don’t come from a religious household, many children are told the deceased
person has gone to heaven, “A better place”. For generations, adults and parents, when they
were children, were told this exact statement. So many adults are lost when it comes to
explaining death that when asked about it, the answer is short, confusing and intangible.
Children have such complicated grief because there is such a major disconnect with no proof of what happens when we die. It has a similar sentiment to, “don’t do that, because I said so.” It leads to confusion, which in turn, inhibits growth from a major life experience.
When parents can’t explain and children are left with unanswered questions, terror is instilled. It is something which has continued generationally, throughout our lifetime until we ourselves are gone. Even if our beliefs are held fast, we lack proof. We fear the unknown, even if we are religious.
Coming out of the womb, into the world was perhaps the most terrifying experience I ever
encountered. I don’t recall being born, but going from a constant temperature, breathing and being fed through a tube I shared with my mother seems a lot easier than using my mouth and lungs. The shock of existence is one of our shared experiences, we also share the shock of death. Perhaps my brain and the collection of cells forming and gathering was so disturbing that I have forced it out from my psyche. We celebrate the collection and integration of cells as something which forms a human being. Yet we deny our offspring a tangible scientific explanation that those cells are transformed into food, energy and life at the time of death.
Our curriculums mention people dying, but we haven’t developed a personal relationship with them. Biology teaches about cells and energy but it’s not applied on a personal level. Health class or sex education discusses the formation of cells. Parents are open to telling their kids about the science in the formation of a baby. Yet those cells breaking apart and breaking down, seems foreign and unnatural. Death is not spoken about as part of a natural process without stigma and fear of the taboo.
To me, your religious beliefs are irrelevant. A funeral directors job is to serve every type of
family, from every type of background. I believe that human beings regardless of their age deserve some type of explanation for life changing circumstances. That explanation needs to have information which is tangible, and can be taught and demonstrated for every age group.
Death is a rite of passage, which is as transitional as being born. This is something which should be taught in school and at home. Yet we avoid the topic like the plague. It would be incredible to teach children about death before it happens so they are prepared.
Empower your children with knowledge and understanding. Tell them the truth and arm them with the tools to succeed through their most difficult times. The science has been around for ages yet the school curriculum has a major disconnect between death, biology and psychology on one of the most important times in our lives.
Bring your children to funerals. Teach them that they are a body made of cells and that it is
amazing to be a part of the world. Teach them the science that energy cannot be created or
destroyed, only transferred. Help them understand the beauty behind decomposition and that our cells are going to do all kinds of things when they begin to break apart.
Tell them that we bury our dead, because cells are nutrients for other living things. Take them to natural areas and show them the mushrooms and mosses which grow on the fallen trees. Show them when they’re young the insects and other plants which consume the underbrush. Explain that even human cremated remains are packed with nutrients and are an excellent fertilizer. Tell them this so they can understand death as a biological and environmental process.
If they have something tangible to see and they understand that death is part of the
cycles of life they don’t have to live in fear. Tell them so they feel connected rather than
confused and isolated; regardless of your religious beliefs, because this is the reality. Explain it in a way that is as exciting as the formation of cells of a baby, because that is exactly what it is.
We will all die. That is okay. The world will always be as imperfect as we are. Change will always be difficult and uncomfortable but understanding makes the process so much easier. Teach your children so they can grow and function when you are gone, rather than fear the inevitable.