this is how you have to explain to children the death of a loved one

Helena Cortés




Many parents are reluctant to take their children to hospitals or funerals. They try to hide from them their own sadness over the death of a loved one and seek to soften the way of communicating the news with euphemisms such as “He’s gone” or “He sees you from heaven.” All these strategies, as frequent as they are wrong, make death practically a taboo. However, the pandemic in the last year has forced thousands of families to confront to the “great forgotten one”: the infantile mourning.

«It is curious, because in the children’s world death is very present, as in Disney movies. We are the adults who cover these unpleasant issues. The euphemisms have more to do with thanatophobia in the elderly. One of the keys when accompanying children is that these topics are not taboo for them», Says José González, a psychologist specialized in these therapies and author of ‘El dlo. Grow in loss. ‘ “Sometimes the little ones have not been introduced to the concept of death. That previous work is lacking that can also be done from schools, because sooner or later we will all go through a process of mourning, “says Patricia Díaz, an expert psychologist in child-adolescent mourning at the Mario Losantos del Campo Foundation, who publishes a guide practice to help parents answer that first big question: what to tell them and how to do it. Also Funespaña has just published three stories to explain the cycle of life.

“They have to understand that death is universal, irreversible and that it has a physical cause. You have to explain that sickness is not synonymous with death, since otherwise they can develop fears. You have to speak to them naturally and honestly, because ambiguity generates more anguish. It is important that they feel they have the time and space to ask questions and express their emotions. We have to do the same, because we are their model. It’s okay if our children see us cry», Points out González.

Covid-19, both experts acknowledge, has made it difficult to carry out a series of rituals (funerals, farewells …) that help digest this grief. Death has less of an impact if it can be seen or foreseen. In these months of confinement, many minors can be affected when they see that, suddenly, their grandfather is gone, ”says Díaz.

Stories and memories

In general, psychologists appreciate that in the last year there has been a growing interest in therapies related to grief, although they highlight that the global data for 2020 is not significant because many centers were closed for months. In the Mario Losantos del Campo foundation, for example, they assessed 17 people last March, six more than in the same period in 2019. A year ago, their face-to-face activity was temporarily closed.

“Around the 30% of the requests for help we receive have to do with minors. Dealing with them is usually easy. In the therapies, usually individual, we use stories, symbolic exercises and also memory boxes ”, points out the expert from the Mario Losantos del Campo foundation, who also believes that children should return to their routines as soon as possible. In fact, that natural and rapid transition that children make from sadness to play, González points out, is a sign of health in them, contrary to what happens with adults. «It is difficult for a childhood grief to be complicated, but even so you have to watch that there is no sudden drop in academic performance, worse mood, if they abandon their life … », insists his partner.

That is precisely what happened a few years ago to Andrea, who had to face the death of her best friend in traumatic circumstances when they were both just teenagers. «My life took a total turn, a halt, and I stopped being interested in myself, I didn’t take care of myself. I thought 24 hours a day about what had happened, “he assumes. The therapy, he says, helped him discover that until then he had not understood what death implies. Little by little he accepted it: «And what I learned then has helped me until today. It is very necessary.

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