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    Telling children about death

    yahrzeit-candleGod warned Adam and Eve that if they ate the forbidden fruit they would die. The sages say that when they sinned the result was that death entered the world.

    The Simchat Torah service says, “Moses died – who does not die?”

    Because we do not know precisely when we will die, we have to be ready to face God at all times. Finality is finality: there’s no second chance.

    I remember when a young adult I knew lost her grandfather. He was elderly and she knew rationally that his life expectancy was limited, but when the moment came she attacked God (regarding me as God’s representative), accusing Him of deliberately taking her grandfather away. I had no easy answer.

    Even worse were the times when it was a child, not a young adult, who was experiencing bereavement for the first time. You can’t tell them not to grieve, be angry or feel dislocated. They are natural emotions. So is guilt (“Was it my fault that they died?”).

    Euphemisms are no answer (my parents told me that Grandma had moved to another city). You can’t tell them that Grandma has gone to sleep, because then the child will be afraid to go to bed or be scared to find Mummy or Daddy asleep.

    But small children can’t realise that Grandma is never coming back. Tell the child this and though you think they understood, a week later they will probably still ask, “When is Grandma coming back?”

    One of the best methods is to see the grief that the adults are going through. You might not want to take the child to the funeral, but they should be present in the shivah house and pick up some of what is happening.

    Something you can do is to encourage the child to have a pet or their own garden. They will see that nothing is for ever. There are no quick fixes for any of life’s problems.

    In the end you will find that the sages are right in advising not to talk too much when someone has died but to be there and see how people comfort one another.

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