Children's book tackles taboo of death

Oxford Mail: Jenny Armstrong with her book Jenny Armstrong with her book

DEATH is a difficult topic for us all, but explaining the process to children is a challenge that all parents dread.

Headington charity SeeSaw, which helps children across the county when a member of their family is dying, has come up with a way to make discussing death less distressing.

It has published its first book, What happens when someone dies? for families to use to explain death to children.

Aimed at children under 11, the book goes step-by-step through the processes of funerals, cremation and grief.

Author Jenny Armstrong, who works at SeeSaw, said: “People use euphemisms which confuse the children.

“Saying someone’s ‘passed away’ or ‘gone to sleep’ makes sense to adults, but it just mixes children up even more.

“I wanted to write something that has very clear and condense language. It uses a lot of the language that children will hear around a funeral but won’t necessarily know what they mean, like pallbearers, wreaths and mourners.”

Working as a children and family support worker for SeeSaw, she said: “When you go in before the funeral the parents are often trying to talk about whether children should go or not.

“It’s difficult for children to decide if they want to go to a funeral if they don’t know what a funeral is.”

She said: “They have a lot of questions like what happens to the body and why grown-ups are crying and what happens at a funeral.

“Often adults have too much going on to think of saying these things to children.”

The charity has been careful to avoid including any mention of faith or religion in the book, allowing families to include their own thoughts.

Mrs Armstrong said: “There are stars with more vague, thought-provoking questions for families to discuss and share together.

“Everybody will have their own way of thinking, whether they talk about heaven or a star, they can stick to that. We don’t dictate. There’s always room for personal beliefs.”

SeeSaw’s director Helen Mackinnon said: “Families need to talk about death.

“Sometimes that is achieved by a SeeSaw support worker facilitating the conversation, but for some families this book will be another way to start the dialogue.”

Not everyone agrees. Richard Williams’ 11-year-old daughter lost a close family friend when Freddie Perry died in a collision involving a car last year.

He said: “We have dealt with it ourselves, and the school has dealt with it with it to a very high standard.

“She knows she can talk to us or her teachers and ask any questions she had. But some people may want to use this book, that’s up to them.”

What happens when someone dies? is free to families using SeeSaw services or can be bought elsewhere for £7.99.

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Comments (1)

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10:12am Thu 19 Jun 14

snert says...

“I wanted to write something that has very clear and condense language. It uses a lot of the language that children will hear around a funeral but won’t necessarily know what they mean, like pallbearers, wreaths and mourners.”

Pretty sure she meant to say "clear and concise". I hope the book has a good editor!

Joking aside though I think it is a good idea. Children don't know how to deal with such things as they don't fully understand the concept. Until they can understand what life is and its value, they will struggle with the concept of death and what it means.

Carl Sagan gave a great answer in response to a question regarding death and afterlife.
“I wanted to write something that has very clear and condense language. It uses a lot of the language that children will hear around a funeral but won’t necessarily know what they mean, like pallbearers, wreaths and mourners.” Pretty sure she meant to say "clear and concise". I hope the book has a good editor! Joking aside though I think it is a good idea. Children don't know how to deal with such things as they don't fully understand the concept. Until they can understand what life is and its value, they will struggle with the concept of death and what it means. Carl Sagan gave a great answer in response to a question regarding death and afterlife. snert
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