Explaining Cremation To Young Children
She draws me rainbows mostly and pictures of us outside where the sun is shining and sporting a happy face. She draws me butterflies and black birds, dolphins, mermaids and superheros and then she draws self portraits. Today River drew me a little mermaid. It is the saddest little picture I have ever seen her draw. I looked at River and told her how beautiful the little mermaid was and I asked her who it was. River told me that it was her. I asked her why she was crying. She replied with “Because, I miss Christian. Where did he go? Where is his body now?”. Oh be still, my racing heart.
River is five. She was born 1 year and 4 days after Christian died. She is only really learning about him now. This has been confusing for her as 3 of her friends all have a brother called Christian. I sometimes wonder how that is even possible that we have had to meet 3 different families over the last year, all with a son called Christian. I am trying to find the positives. One of them is that River now has made a best friend and her best friend has a brother called Christian too and this Christian is where he is meant to be, here on Earth, healthy and strong. River wanted to know what happened to Christian’s body. I had never explained to any of the girls that we had Christian cremated or what cremation means and all that it entails. I called Scarlett in to the room and told the girls to sit on the sofa as I wanted to show them something. I went into my studio and picked up the box that Franchesca made me to hold Christian’s ashes.
And so I sat down with my daughters to explain to them what happened to their brother’s body after he died.
In the past I have thought about this conversation with my daughters and what exactly I would tell them. I tried to put myself in their shoes. I thought about all the things about cremation that would frighten me if I was a young girl. The thought of a body burning was just so horrific to me so I decided that I wouldn’t use the word burning. I couldn’t think of anything else that was frightening to me about a cremation and so I knew I would just have to hope for the best.
The following is the story I told my girls about what happened to their brother when his body was cremated…
“So, my darlings, when your brother was born, you know we only got to hold him for a day. We wish we could have kept Christian forever but because he died we needed to let him go because you can’t hold onto people’s bodies when they die, only their spirits. So when it was time to say goodbye to Christian, Daddy and I gave him a big cuddle. We cried because we were very sad that we would not get to see him again. We gave your brother to the most beautiful midwife in the world. Her name was Carole and she gave Christian a lot of love, so that made us feel a little better knowing that Christian was being very well cared for. Carole took Christian to some other very special people who take care of babies if they die. They wrapped Christian in a beautiful blue blanket and gave him a teddy bear to hold. They also gave Christian a letter that Daddy and I had written to him. Once all of the precious things were together with Christian, he was placed into a beautiful box and the people took him to a special room. The special room is very small and only the babies who have died can go in there. Once the lovely people put Christian into the room they all said goodbye to him and closed the door. They went to the side of the room where there were all these different coloured buttons to press. Once they had pressed all of the buttons, that is when Christian’s body was cremated. It is a very magical process. The room that Christian was put in became very warm and the heat in the room allowed his body to start to disappear into ashes which is kind of like dust. It didn’t hurt him at all because once you have died you are not able to feel any pain. Once Christian’s body had turned into ashes the people opened the door and collected all of the ashes into a little bag and they placed that bag into another special box. The next week our family all came together and we had a celebration for Christian. We read out poems and lit candles and we played special music for him. The Chaplin who spoke at Christian’s celebration gave Christian’s ashes to me in a tiny box and then we were able to take them home with us. We decided that we wanted to keep Christian’s ashes with us in our home. Some people like to take their babies ashes to really beautiful places like the beach or up a mountain and then they scatter the ashes out into nature so that their baby can be apart of the sea or a part of the trees and flowers. We have scattered some of Christian’s ashes in a few different special places so now he is apart of the sea and he is there every time we visit the beach. Now we keep the rest of his ashes in our home in this beautiful box that Mama’s friend made for us”.
I then asked the girls if they wanted to see Christian’s ashes and they said that they did, so I pulled them out of the box. The girls were fascinated by them. I pulled the plastic bag out of the little peace dove bag and the girls had a hold of them each. It was a really beautiful moment. Obviously as I was telling my daughters this story they had some questions and thankfully I was able to answer them. Scarlett wanted to know if we saw Christian’s body turn to ash and I told her that we didn’t and that nobody can actually see that happen. River wanted to know if Christian’s bones were a part of the ashes and I told her that they were and that all of his body including his hair and clothes turned to ash. River wanted to know if Christian’s eyes were open when he turned to ashes and I told her that they were closed.
The conversation went so much better than I expected. This is more than likely because I didn’t have to explain the process to them as it was happening to Christian but years later so it was not traumatic for them. I tried to be as honest as I could with my girls without frightening them, sure I may have sugar-coated the process of cremation but I felt I had to. They are only little girls. I made sure that I used comforting words to describe the process and I replaced the words burning with heat. I also gave them the choice of whether or not they wanted to see his ashes. Of course, if they had said that they did not want to see them, I would have respected their wishes. I was able to comfort my girls with our beliefs in Heaven too so this made the conversation easier. They loved speaking about Heaven and all that they believe Christian would be doing there. Of course your beliefs may differ to ours so it is completely up to you what you tell your children. A friend of mine who does not believe in an afterlife told her children that when they scattered their little sister’s ashes, she became one with the flowers and now that is where she is, in Earth’s ever lasting garden.
If you have children who you have not explained the process of cremation to before, you may want to look into ways on how you can explain the process to them when the time is right. My way may not work for you, or you may not agree with it, but I wanted to share my experience here with you all in the hopes that you may be able to find a good way to explain this to your living children without frightening them. I always recommend that if you are really worried or concerned, contact a counsellor or a health professional who has experience in this field.
If you have had to explain the process of cremation to a child before, how did it go? What did you say? How did they react?
Wishing you all gentle times.