Death is an important part of life, but can be a tough concept to explain to a child. Attempting to blunt the explanation so that the reality of our situation doesn’t cut them quite so deeply is only natural. The last thing we want is to cause a child distress, so a desire to soften the blow is often foremost in our minds.
When faced with how to explain cremation to a child, there are only two fundamental options. We can either choose to protect them from the truth or protect them from ignorance. In the long run, it serves the child much better for them to hear the truth.
If you’re unsure how to broach the subject, we’ve put some tips together to get you started.
How to Explain Cremation to a Child
Children look to us for guidance and reassurance, especially when they’re trying to understand core concepts such as death. To them, adults are the keepers of the answers when it comes to life’s great mysteries. Unfortunately for them, we don’t have all the answers and for the most part, our guesses are as good as theirs.
That doesn’t mean we can’t aid them in their exploration and guide their questions towards satisfying conclusions. What might satisfy a child’s mind as they interrogate the world around them is for them to decide, but we can at least steer them away from dead ends. Ultimately, their questioning will reach a point where they’ll have to come to terms with the fact that no matter how deeply they probe, each route they try will end in speculation.
There’s a lot of fear to be had in facing an impenetrable unknown and the lack of a solid explanation where it’s concerned. What can be explained, however, is the process of cremation, why it’s necessary, and why people choose it for themselves after death. These explanations serve as firm footing for children and help them build a scaffold of understanding when faced with death and all its particulars.
While explaining the necessity to a child, it’s best to keep things simple and to the point rather than beating around the bush. A direct approach is best, and you might find that a child will appreciate a no-nonsense explanation rather than trying to talk circles around the truth of the matter. Confusing and overlong explanations are often unnecessary and don’t do anybody, including the one doing the explaining, any good.
How to Talk to a Child About Death
It’s all too easy to patronize a child when they begin asking fundamental questions. This is a huge mistake and a betrayal of our position and duty as adults to help children as well as we can. If a child asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, admit it, and explain there are some things that nobody can know for certain.
This shouldn’t be the end of the conversation, though. Explain to them that just because there’s no way to know a thing for sure, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth talking about. All conversation is valid, especially when its point is to try and get a better handle on the world around us.
Encourage curiosity, especially in the face of inescapable scenarios such as the loss of a loved one. The tone you use, as well as the words you choose while doing your best to explain death to a child can impart a lasting strength in them. There’s no reason to be anything other than matter-of-fact when it comes to death, and when done right, a child will learn to see that death is nothing to be afraid of and a perfectly natural conclusion to any life well-lived.
Rather than telling a curious child what you believe, or what others believe from the outset, inquire after their own opinions and start from there. You might be surprised by what they have to say, and you’ll be much better off trying to help them once you understand what they think and believe personally. This is also a great opportunity to nip unfounded fears in the bud before they become big enough to cause anxiety or distress.
Be Present While Explaining Cremation
Children absorb more than what we simply tell them and are much more sensitive to our actions and emotions than we give them credit for. For this reason, it’s vitally important to be as genuine as possible when discussing death and getting cremated. If you hesitate or make an attempt to gloss over your fears concerning the subject, they’ll pick up on it.
When children feel as if they’re given half-truths, they may learn to distrust your explanations, and as well they should. This leads them to speculate on why they might not be getting the full story, and potentially cause them to assume the worst. It makes sense for them to assume that you’re avoiding the kind of uncomfortable truth when the truth as we understand it is nothing of the sort.
For this reason, it’s important to watch yourself very carefully and measure each of your responses before giving them. There’s no telling which word or phrase they might latch onto and worry over at night in the privacy of their minds, for example. Prompt them to ask you any question they can think of regarding death, and stress that no question is silly or taboo.
The Idea Behind the Cremation Process
Once the child has exhausted their questions concerning what happens to the part of us that leaves our bodies behind, you can start explaining the point of cremation. The relationship between the material world, our bodies, and our minds is, of course, a complicated one. There’s a lot to discuss here, and much to speculate over, but the fact is that an uninhabited body has no further use to anybody and needs disposing of.
Bodies, despite our fondness for them, are a problem when uninhabited. They’re no longer capable of moving and begin to decompose after a while. The question becomes how to best deal with the mortal remains of our loved ones once their essence has departed.
Cremation is a popular solution that involves burning the body. This is done within a specifically designed incinerator inside a crematorium. Temperatures reach between 1,400 and 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving behind nothing but bone which is then ground into a fine powder to be kept as a keepsake or scattered in ceremony.
While this process might sound somewhat harsh, it’s a perfect solution to the problem of dealing with human remains. The feelings we have for the departed understandably cause us to feel protective of the body, and thoughts of it being burned are rightfully uncomfortable. What’s important to explain to a child is that these remains are not the person they once knew, only what’s left of the form they once occupied.
Cremation allows loved ones to grieve at their own pace, and take the time to say goodbye. The ashes of the burned body are sealed and received by friends and family to be dealt with as they see fit. Many people choose to either keep the ashes in a decorative urn or to scatter them somewhere the departed thought fondly of.
This is a great opportunity to explain to a child that death comes to us all and how to say goodbye on good terms. Grieving the loss of loved ones is an innate part of life, and the scattering of ashes is an ideal way to involve the child in a final meaningful goodbye. Watching as the wind whisks ashes into nothing affords children a powerful visual representation of finality.
We’re emotional creatures and the power of ceremony serves us well when processing grief. Children are no different, and while they might not feel the gravity of the situation the same way an adult would, they’ll be left with a memory that, in time, they’ll certainly be glad of. The release of ashes is a symbolic gesture that needn’t be explained when seen, something easily understood even by a child.
Incineration is the most common form of cremation, but other types of cremation may be available depending on the facilities of your local crematorium. Ask your crematorium technician about the different options available and the benefits and differences of each. Bio-cremation through the use of lye is gaining in popularity, as is resomation, a water-based and more environmentally friendly approach.
A Measured Explanation
Consider the truth of the situation and word it as best as you can. There’s no shame in telling a child that you don’t expect to do a good job or that you’re worried about explaining such a sensitive subject before you begin.
Honesty does wonders in these types of situations, and children respect words that come with the ring of truth to them, so they’ll appreciate the effort.
If reading this article has helped you with how to explain cremation to a child but you still have questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re happy to help!