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Helping Children Cope With Death


An interview with Reid Trimble, Trimble Funeral Home and Crematory

As the father of three children under the age of 4, Reid Trimble, licensed funeral director and embalmer for Trimble Funeral Home and Crematory in Moline and Coal Valley, has worked with countless bereaved children and their parents providing guidance and helpful suggestions while communicating with children and their parents about death and dying. He understands that when death occurs, the most profound and far-reaching changes happen in the lives and minds of children. In this question and answer format below, Reid discusses teachable moments when talking to children about death.

Q:    How shall I bring up the topic of a pending death?

Reid Trimble: “Rather than beginning a conversation about a specific person (grandpa, neighbor, or classmate) I believe talking about natural processes which a child understands is a good way to introduce the concept of death. For example, new leaves on a tree replace the old ones that die. A living tree produces seeds so that life may continue. Or another approach might be to recount a recent experience like the death of a pet. This can start a conversation about how animals live and die and the sadness it brings to the entire family.”

Q:    What happens if there is a sudden death?
Reid Trimble: “When a death occurs, it is important children are told immediately by a close trusted adult, preferably their parent. Any delay makes it all the more possible that the child will be told in the wrong way, by the wrong person, and most likely in the wrong way. While the message is difficult and in the midst of lingering emotional pain, adults and children will find comfort in what they mean to each other.”

Q:    How in-depth should I get when explaining the death?
Reid Trimble: “First of all, give your child time to comprehend what you have just told them. Stop talking periodically to allow time for your child to ask you questions. Silence is OK. The child may or may not have heard all you just told them. Try to understand each child’s train of thought. While you may have explained that their grandmother (your mother) is now dead; your child may be thinking along the lines of what will happen to their Mommy and ultimately be thinking, but not saying, ‘Who will take care of me? Or, Will Daddy also die and leave me all alone?’”

Q:    Do children really grieve?
Reid Trimble: “Yes, they do, and grief is an expression of love. Children are not strangers to unhappy feelings like feeling sad, mad, guilty, lonely or afraid.”

Q:    How do you explain the death of a parent to a child?
Reid Trimble: “This is the most difficult of death scenarios and one of the greatest crisis for a child. In their mind, a child feels that never again will their world be as secure as it had been. The manner in which children cope with this loss depends a great deal on the way the surviving spouse copes with the loss. This is where a close family friend or relative can help both the surviving spouse and child by suggesting support groups or counseling in the weeks and months follow the death”.

Q:    How do I explain the loss of a child’s sibling?

Reid Trimble: “When a brother or sister dies, children feel more deeply the fragility of life. Immediately they may leap to think that if their sibling can die, so could they. And when?   On top of their own fears, children may try to “replace” the deceased child trying to make everything “all right again.” Or, some children are beset with guilt remembering times when they were angry or jealous of their brother or sister.”

Q.    Should children attend the funeral?

Reid Trimble: “A funeral is really a celebration of life and an acknowledgement of the deceased’s contributions to life, family, and community. It is a time for families, neighbors, and friends to gather to accept the death and to publically grieve. Participating in the funeral helps children understand the finality of death, as well as dispel any fantasies the child may have. If it is convenient prior to the funeral, you may want to stop by the funeral home to meet the staff and see the layout of the building.  At our new facility in Moline, we have a separate family room with a children’s room next door complete with toys. If a child knows where they can go for a little private time at the funeral home or church, attendance at the funeral will be less overwhelming. Be sure to take a few minutes with children to discuss what to expect during the funeral. Walk through the timeline of the day. Tell children who will be speaking, before, during, and after the service.  No matter how helpful and therapeutic the funeral may be, children should never be forced to attend or made to feel guilty.”

Q.    How do children react when going to the cemetery?

Reid Trimble:  “A funeral does not end in the funeral home, church, or synagogue. Children need to know that at the end of the day their loved one will be placed in a grave, mausoleum, or columbarium. When a child witnesses the burial, they are able to put an ending to the experience of where their loved one’s body or cremains are now.”

Do you have further questions? Reid Trimble welcomes visitors to Trimble Funeral Home and Crematory located at 701 12th St. Moline, Illinois. Families, educators, and grief counselors are welcome to tour the entire facility.  Would you like an invitation to a program on this topic or other topics?  Contact Reid at TrimbleFH@TrimbleGroup.com or call 309-764-1144.