Obligation To Provide Comfort

Although we can't cure our kids of the fear of death, it's important to keep that fear from overwhelming them.

Even when it does not involve death, loss is a difficult issue for kids, especially in their first few years. Peek-a-boo is riveting for infants precisely because the parent vanishes and then returns—a kind of mini-resurrection worthy of a squeal of delight. A toy that rolls under the crib gives rise to a keening wail worthy of an Irish widow. Only after a good deal of experience and development does the child begin to learn that things that go away continue to exist out of sight—and generally return.

It's hardly surprising that the child's first confrontation with death is such a cruel blow. After that long, hard climb out of her early misconceptions about loss, she suddenly learns that Mr. Skittles the hamster is gone and not coming back. Little wonder that we create safe and happy places in our imaginations for our loved and lost ones to continue running on the exercise wheel.

Fortunately, there are genuinely comforting ways to help children accept the finality of death—both of others and of themselves—without the need for afterlife fantasies. This chapter will offer several ways to provide that honest comfort, as well as additional resources for further exploration.

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