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chupacabra's avatar

How can I deal with the fallout from my children seeing their dead great-grandmother?.

Asked by chupacabra (796points) February 19th, 2010 from iPhone

My husbands Grandmother passed away and they had a wake (open casket) which I successfully put my foot down and banned out small children from attending. (little girls 8 & 9)

Unfortunately the next morning when I demanded we stay in the car as the final viewing was held my husband demanded the children come in- backed by his family- who pointed out that everyone elses kids were there but were in the far back. I relented but once inside my husband took them to “see” grandma. Inside I was seething but did not want to make a big scene so I worked on gently explaining to the girls about death.

I spoke with them as positively as I could about what they saw and thought that all was well because they seemed to be okay with everything.

I was positive and honest when they asked questions.

It is now 2:00am and one of my daughters just woke up with horrible nightmares and I am livid.

Please advise me on how to:

1. Help my girls process this emotional trauma.

2. How to deal with my anger at my husband for exposing them to this after repeatedly telling him they were not ready.

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33 Answers

gemiwing's avatar

I would let them know it’s okay to be disturbed, or feel however they are feeling. It’s natural to be upset by death. Also, try not to let your idea of how they feel eclipse how they really feel.

Give them ways to explore the topic and get out their emotions. Find books at the library, let them draw pictures or work with clay- anything that can help them process. Talk to them about the first time you saw someone you loved in a casket- give them the knowledge that it will be okay.

Now with regards to the hubbs- have the kids tell him and include him in their healing. He’ll get the message.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Oh for God’s sake! Death is as much a part of life as is birth, eating, sleeping, etc. You need to get over it so your kids will get over it. By blowing it all up out of proportion, you’re making it out to be far more than it would be otherwise.

Just_Justine's avatar

Both my mother and my father looked very peaceful when they died. It sort of helped me seeing them. In one way. In another way it was shocking and hard. I also keep remembering how cold their skin was. What I am trying to say is death need not be disturbing because of the way people seem so at peace. It might not have been the best idea at their age to show them grandma, but death all round is difficult for kids. As it is something new they have to assimilate and digest. In my simple mind I would try and “turn around” the image they saw and keep remarking how peaceful grandma was. I liked the first answer too. I can’t really add to it. Death is very natural of course. Personally I find all the man made stuff that goes with it, makes it sad somehow. I didn’t even have a funeral for my mom. I just know once you are gone you are gone all the prayers and funeral stuff has nothing to do with how you lived.

Perhaps they can set up an online memorial for her. Celebrating her life? With lovely photo’s of her happy and poems. I just always focus on my parents life not their death as it was such a short moment in their long lives. I am sorry to hear of your loss too.

Merriment's avatar

As hard as it is to not be livid…you have to get that emotion out. Your children can feel mommy’s rage and will mistakenly attribute it to what they are scared of, not your desire to throttle their beloved daddy.

This will, of course, make you less than convincing that everything is “okay” and nothing to be upset about.

Then it sounds like you have done what you can about being honest and upfront about all of it. Expecting to have to repeat explanations of this type for several days at least, would be the best plan. As galling as that is since it could have been avoided.

As for your husband, while being pissed at him for not respecting your wishes on this, and apparently for not pulling nightmare duty..I would also be fair and acknowledge that your kids are going to be exposed to death at some point and we can’t protect them from that reality. That it was a more distant relative who died at a more easily explained advanced age was really a boon.

To exercise your anger I would suggest you go in and clang a couple of pans over his head when the next child wakes up scared and send him in to handle the fall out.

I’m sorry for your loss.

lillycoyote's avatar

Just don’t do anything to make it worse. Death, sadly is a part of life. If you get really worked up about it I think it’s only going to make your kids more anxious and more afraid.

chupacabra's avatar

Please note that I did not make a big deal out of anything. Nor do I have a problem accepting death. I would never disrespect my husband in front of our children by arguing with him.

Nor am I blowing things up.

My issue is wth the girls having to see a dead body close up at an age when they were clearly not ready.

I would also like to add that in our 11 years of marriage I have always respected my husband and am not the type to fight.

In fact- until my daughter woke up with nightmares and I had calmed her down I was not angry with my husband.

My anger is what prompted me to log in here because I hoped someone had been there.

The problem with the Internet is that it is hard to convey that things are in fact calm aside of what I feel inside right now.

I love my kids far too much to be emotional at their expense.

chupacabra's avatar

@Just_Justine How old were you? Were you a child?

@CaptainHarley- Did you even read the details?

Perhaps I should have asked if anyone as a small child had experienced this and how long it took them to process it.

Merriment's avatar

@chupacabra -

Now that they have already seen it, it is really very much based on your individual children as to how long it will take them to process it. It could take days…or they could wake up with nothing more pressing than which cereal to have for breakfast on their minds. And likely they will vacillate between these two responses for several days until they make internal peace with the experience. But they will get over it.

faye's avatar

I’m with the ones who said it’s normal and the girl’s will be over it quickly unless they’re wrapped it ridiculous protective webs. I was the child. For gawd’s sake it’s not easy at any age. 8 yrs old is certainly old enough. She’ll be braggin at school about the horror, the horror.

sakura's avatar

I know this must be a difficult time for you, mixed emotions and knowing that your daughter is a little scared about the situation. Death does come to us all but it doesn’t make it any less scary for some people, I have had a fear of death for a long time I know it’s natural and all that so no lectures please, it’s just something I live with! Like some people being afraid of lurverly snakes! But I had 3 deaths in as many months last year and one thing they taught me even though death sucks, that life is too short.

I know you are angry with your husband, but try to explain to him why you felt it was too soon, and I agree with some of the others, if you have any nightmare problems they should be a shared responsibility. Dad hopefully can explain to children just as well as you that Grandma had a good life and she is now at peace.
I am no child psychologist, but I am guessing they will never forget, but as with most things it will ease with time.

Good Luck and I hope all is solved peacefully.

autumn43's avatar

There are some great books for children on how to deal with someone they are close to who is dying or has already died. I suggest you go to the library and/or buy one and read it together.

It’s obviously an emotional time for everyone. Your daughter had a normal reaction to something that she wasn’t sure how to process. At age 8 I went to my grandfather’s funeral. I was a very inquisitive child and I think seeing everyone saying goodbye and then being able to smile and celebrate his life after (he had lived a tough, but good life) was very important for me. I saw there was a finality in life – and to see that rather than just be told it really helped. I knew I wouldn’t be seeing my grandfather again because I was allowed to share in his death, rather than being told ‘he’s gone.’

I think your daughter(s) will be fine, as long as not too much is made about her nightmare. I think talking it out will help her – and you. Don’t be too hard on your husband or his family. They were emotional too. Like others have said, this will be okay. Good luck.

MacBean's avatar

Please note that I did not make a big deal out of anything.

Only, you did. Maybe not in front of your girls, but… you did. And kids are not stupid. Things don’t have to happen right in front of their faces for them to know that there’s something going on. If you weren’t so concerned about how your nearly pre-teen girls would handle seeing a prepared body at a funeral, they probably both would have been perfectly fine. FFS, they’re not five, and I assume the body wasn’t mangled or anything…

chupacabra's avatar

To the very few who actually gave me helpful replies my deepest thanks and lurve.

The rest of you who were not there but insist on kicking me while I was down- telling me I made a scene when I most certainly handled the situation with grace and class despite my feelings- I should never have posted this question and flagged it for removal.

You weren’t there yesterday and you are not here today. My children did not have any idea why I wished to stay in the car and I was very gentle and natural when explaining to them what they were seeing despite my concern that they were not ready for it emotionally.

You want to tar and feather me for my inner emotions. You refuse to believe my words and seem to just want to pick a fight.

I am tired and sad and will not engage. You will have to seek confrontation elsewhere.

I honestly wish I had never asked.

autumn43's avatar

@chupacabra – I think it was important for you to ask. I’m sorry for your loss (I should have said that in my earlier post). It’s always good to see how others would have handled certain situations. You are entitled to feeling sad, as this was your loss too. Take a deep breath and don’t worry about the answers that you didn’t feel were helpful.

CaptainHarley's avatar

So we get dinged for honest answers? Interesing.

filmfann's avatar

I went to my first open casket funeral when I was about 16. I did not suffer any nightmares because of it.
That said, I have been to quite a few funerals, including my parents, and I have never seen an open casket where I didn’t think to myself “That’s a dead body”. It doesn’t matter how natural they look, or how at peace they seem. That guy is dead.

TheLoneMonk's avatar

Good god there is nothing wrong with a child seeing a dead relative in the confines of a casket. Our family is quite large and my kids have seen dead relatives since they were 2 and 3 years old. Now they are in their late teens and have a very healthy view of death as a part of life. I fail to understand your issue with letting kids see their relatives dead in a proper place.

You ask how to help them process this emotional trauma and I suggest that there would have been none if you would have just allowed them to carry on with the ritual of open casket wakes and funerals.

MacBean's avatar

I went to my first open casket funeral when I was five. Since my parents were actually okay with it and didn’t have to hide their inner feelings, I was okay with it, too. I didn’t have any emotional trauma, and people who are afraid of death have always just baffled me. When I was 13, one of my best friends killed himself by shooting himself in the head. They did some (not especially great, honestly) reconstruction and actually had an open casket wake. You know what? Still no trauma. Because nobody was sending me any kind of signals, to matter how subtle, about how I should be traumatized and freaked out.
To the very few who actually gave me helpful replies my deepest thanks and lurve.

The rest of you who were not there but insist on kicking me while I was down- telling me I made a scene when I most certainly handled the situation with grace and class despite my feelings- I should never have posted this question and flagged it for removal.

What this basically says is “People who think I’m wrong stink. I don’t like you. Waaah! Go away.” Because the most helpful answers you’ve gotten were the ones that said “You handled it badly from the start. Do better next time.”

andrew's avatar

I don’t know if I would totally jump on board about blaming you—- but I think it’s very clear that you also have very strong emotional reaction to the event—as evidenced by the fact that you stayed in the car.

I do know that as a child, I was quite, quite keen in picking up signals from my mother. She was oblivious to that.

But I’m not trying to blame you—I don’t think you behaved in a ‘wrong’ way at all.

Words like ‘livid’ and ‘trauma’, though, signal that something more is going on here. One nightmare does not a trauma make. I had horrible nightmares from watching a commercial for Friday the 13th as a kid. It lasted a week, at most.

I abhor open-casket funerals, I think they’re silly. I can understand your feelings on them. I much prefer being left with the memory of the deceased as alive, rather than a body. I really don’t get it.

I still remember my great-grandmother’s funeral. I had known her—my grandfather had visited her in the nursing home every day. I must have been 5 or 6. I really didn’t want to have any part of the funeral, so I stayed in the car—and I’m actually a bit sad about that. My parents were totally supportive of my decision, but the thing I remember most about the experience is the sense of shame and disconnection from my family who all had an experience I wasn’t a part of.

How can you deal with this situation? Give it time. Acknowledge that this is emotional for everyone involved. If your children keep having trouble in two weeks, then start getting angry with your spouse.

Until then, he needs to deal with it, though.

augustlan's avatar

I’m sorry you’re going through this. I kept my children away from funerals altogether when they were younger, just because one of them has severe anxiety and I was certain she would be traumatized by it. A lot of people around me thought I was in the wrong for that, so I can understand your feeling of being judged. You know your children best, and were attempting to do what you thought was best for them.

In hindsight, it seems obvious that you and your husband should have discussed this situation in advance, and come to some sort of an agreement about what the girls should and should not see. Then you would have presented a united front, whatever the outcome was.

I do think your kids will be fine. Unless one or the other of them has underlying issues already, they will process this experience in the usual way (questions, dreams, talking, crying, moving on). Try to give your husband the benefit of the doubt. Like you, he was also trying to do what he thought was best – and at a very emotional time. Do let him help you deal with the girls’ reactions, though. It’s important that he see it.

essieness's avatar

Because I’m not a parent, I can only give you my perspective on this rather than parenting advice, as something similar to this happened to me when I was young. For the record, I’m definitely on your team when it comes to this situation.

I’ve always thought it was completely morbid to view a body after death. What good could possibly come out of it? The person’s spirit is gone and all that’s left is a shell. My belief was proven true to me when my mother decided at age 14 that I should see my first dead body. I was taken to a funeral home to view some old lady I never knew and to whom I had no emotional attachment. It was awful. The vision of her dead body was stuck in my head for years and I vowed never to look at another one again, if I could help it.

Flash forward about 10 years when two of my very close friends were shot, execution style, in their workplace. I attended both funerals with my best friend, and we made a promise to stick together and not view the bodies. We didn’t want to remember our friends as cold, lifeless, shells. Unfortunately, social graces got the better of us. We couldn’t sit in the back of the church while everyone else formed a line and walked by the caskets to have a peek, so we went too. It was horrible. I had nightmares about it for a year.

When my dad died in 2007 in his home, I caught a glance of him, but it was very shortly after he died. Fortunately, I was so relieved that his suffering was over that it wasn’t too bad. But I still had a hard time getting the image out of my head for a long time.

So, in my experience, viewing a dead body brought me zero closure, zero comfort, and really just made dealing with the death more painful and drawn out. As for dealing with the fallout you’re experiencing with your children, I would take the advice you’re getting here from the jellies, compile it with advice from other people you trust and your own motherly instinct, and never make them view a dead body again.

essieness's avatar

I know I’m not supposed to double post, but I would just like to say that just because someone doesn’t want to view, or is upset by viewing, a dead body, does not mean they are afraid of death. Actually, I would say the opposite is true. I feel that the need to have that last look is a sign of not being able to just let go and accept that your loved one’s spirit has transitioned into the next phase of life. Bodies are temporary vessels.

YARNLADY's avatar

There is no proof or reason to believe that even if your child had never seen the body she would not have had a nightmare anyway. Children understand death, and the more secretive you are about it, the more they have to fear.

chupacabra's avatar

The Ten Commandments of Fluther:

1. Thou shalt not post questions when angry.
2. Thou shalt not post questions using an iphone when one cannot properly review the question.
3. Thou shalt not wear thy heart on thy sleeve then be upset when someone points it out.
4. Thou shalt not post late at night when sleep-deprived.
5. Thou shalt not respond to posts on said question while still sleep-deprived.
6. Thou shalt not become snarky in response as it disrespects those who were helpful.
7. Thou shalt not take each response personally.
8. Thou shalt understand that all opinions voiced may not be helpful but all are posted to give perspective.
9. Thou shalt revisit where one broke commandments and read again after head is clear so that one might find the message that could not be seen before.
10. Thou shalt apologize when one has flown off the cuff.

Sorry Guys.

My next question might in fact be “Why is it that when awakened in the middle of the night issues are blown way out of proportion?”

faye's avatar

I think angers simmers near the surface and when overtired, and it’s our kids, bubbles over.

CaptainHarley's avatar

BTW… you’re all invited to my funeral. It will be most impressive, since it’s a full-blown military funeral, and there will be a dinner later with an open bar. : ))

lillycoyote's avatar

@chupacabra re:The 10 Commanments of Fluther. Now there’s some class, and a good-natured spirit. I can only speak for myself but sorry if any of the comments caused you additional pain or stress. I have had many times, during or after some traumatic or crazy-making experience, when I wished that someone had locked me up for at least 24 hours before allowing me to have any kind of contact with other human beings, IRL or otherwise, giving me time to chill, time to get perspective and time to make sure that the the filter that prevents things from going directly from my brain right to my mouth, or from my brain to right my fingers, which is the case on the internet, and time to make sure that that filter is fully functional. Are your girls doing ok? A death in the family is always difficult for everyone, each in his or her own way.

CaptainHarley's avatar


But I insist! : P

andrew's avatar

@chupacabra It’s because you care so much for your kids! Any more nightmares?

chupacabra's avatar

Good Morning All!

I am finally home and last night slept well for the first time in a week. I am thrilled to report that after that first horrible night neither of my daughters has had any more night terrors or bad dreams. My husband, who never knew I was angry with him, is now completely forgiven. ;)

essieness's avatar

@chupacabra That’s wonderful! Glad everything is working out ok for you.

lillycoyote's avatar

@chupacabra And all is kind of, sort of, well with the world. Life is just so damned
difficult sometimes, isn’t it? None of us ever really know what the right thing to do is, all the time every time. I don’t even know even half the time. Sometimes all you can do is muddle through, as best you can. Glad to hear that things have settled down.

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