This week a radio show asked me to voice my opinion on the subject of young children and how we should deal with them dealing with death. I am not sure how relevant I really was to an argument that had arisen from writer Carol Sarler’s feature in the Daily Mail, where she puts forward that there is a certain element of grief pornography going on on the streets of Edinburgh that has seen the parents of young children in the Drylaw community allowing their kids to take along memorial teddies, flowers and notes for tragic Mikaeel Kular, the little Edinburgh boy who was found dead last week, and place them at a makeshift but growing shrine to the three-year-old. I actually agree with her on that fact. I wouldn’t take my child along to such a gathering but then they didn’t know him and it would more than likely frighten them to know even a fraction of what seems to be the story behind his awful death. However, there are those children that did know him and those that went to nursery with him and they need to find something to help explain the inexplicible or somewhere to hang the feelings that they are now feeling about a boy they knew but ‘bam’ is no longer here. So this is where I disagree with Carol. The discussion on the radio didn’t get particuarly heated on the parts that I heard. We all agreed it would be wrong to take a child along that didn’t know Mikaeel, especially a very young one, because why bring death and the emotions it brings with it into their lives unless they did.
But death did rear its ugly head in my girls little world a long time before anyone would want their kids exposed to it . I would love to wrap my children in the warmth and ignorance and love and cocoa that she suggests but I can’t. So I suppose I did get a bit riled when Bereavement expert Ann (I think) suggested waiting until children are at an age that they can process death, usually around 10 when they suffer the loss of a grandparent. I disagree with my co-pundits on this only because I can’t wait until a more palatable age for my children to understand death. I can’t because death snuck in under their world and blew it apart before they were even two, before they even knew what that world was about. So now these girls of mine are these two little beings out there everyday dealing with death and as such those other children they meet on their way are having to deal with it too. I have felt guilt when I hear from a parent of one of Evie’s friends that their daughter has been asking about what dead means and can their dad die too. I have sat in silent tears listening to Evie and her friend have an argument about where Evie’s daddy is and why she thinks Santa will stop by in the sky on his way back from delivering all those Christmas presents because he knows that Evie’s daddy is lonely and in need a bit of Santa company. So perhaps it’s wrong that my children talk about their dead dad, how he died and where dead actually takes you to other children. Perhaps Carol would disapprove. But my view comes from firsthand experience – unfortunately death is part of everyday life. More part of some people’s everydays than others, obviously.
But really it is sneaking up on us everywhere. It’s in our childrens books…Little Red Hood anyone? It’s in the films they watch. I challenge you to name a Disney film that the main protagonist has more than one parent for the full film? I think it’s only four. Honestly. Google it and up comes many a feature on Tragic Parents In Disney. So where am I going with this? Who knows. But anyway my quest to try to make this discovery of death and all it means for two very special girls of two and three took me to a meeting at their nursery this week. It didn’t start well because due to my own grief and some hurt I have had happen this week I arrived late and teary. Great start. But I left comforted. The staff are keen to help Evie and her friends understand death but not in a way that singles her out. They’ve ordered more books that try to help pre-schoolers understand what death means than you can shake a stick at. They’re looking at getting support from bereavement charities such as Child Bereavement UK, Grief Encounter, Winston’s Wish and Richmond’s Hope. I don’t think any of them will be going home and scaring their parents with tales of fear and spectres but they will begin to understand that every family is diffrent and some daddies and mummies aren’t there for several reasons, nevermind death. Och I don’t know perhaps my hope is that with all these networks of support available for children these days dealing with death will mean it will no longer be a taboo subject until children are deemed old enough to deal. And as such where the generation before us swept death under the carpet with an awkward ‘daddy’s gone to sleep’ the generation after us will be able to talk about death freely and accept the sometimes very much unacceptable.