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my 5 yr old wants to see her granny's body after I've probably cocked up explanation of death

(18 Posts)
fuckwittery Fri 02-Nov-12 23:59:24

Mum died on wednesday. Had a 2 hour interrogration from my 5 yr old DD when I told her wanting very exact details of what happened, what will happen to granny's body, heaven, who is looking after her etc. It was absolutely exhausting (and I didn't tell her until the end of the day, my mum died the evening before and I'd had no sleep for 24 hours). It segued into being worried whether God and Santa really exist, as they are only in stories, and the tooth fairy, etc etc etc. We are Catholic and I felt reasonably confident on the God/heaven/ the soul being released bit but then having to justify the existence of Santa on top threw me!

Anyway, she was very clear that she wanted to see the body. this is in the context of me explaining that Granny's soul, the invisible bit that helped her think, talk, love, breathe etc was going up into heaven helped by the angels and her body didn't work anymore and had stopped breathing and was just like an empty shell (possibly way too detailed here for her, thinking I upset her? The questions just kept coming though!). She wanted to know what we'd do with it and I explained about saying our prayers and then burying the body and it turning into dust (again, each bit in response to more and more questions!). She wants to see and touch the body before we say goodbye to it. I said that I had said goodbye in the hospital and she might find it upsetting that Granny was no longer in her body but she said she was sure.

I'm definitely taking her to the funeral, I think she needs all these questions answered by seeing what happens and how we say goodbye and she is very used to going to church. But the body? I was with my mum when she died and spent half an hour sitting with her after, I am not that keen to see her body again. She didn't mention it again today but the funeral is not likely to be for 2 weeks and I think she will bring it up again. Has anyone else had experience of this? I don't want her to be frightened of death by telling her its going to be a scary experience, but I don't want to traumatise her. I want to normalise death actually and I am veering on the side of taking her. My Dad's side of the family are Catholic and wakes i.e. sitting saying prayers with the body are normal but my mum was not catholic and I am literally the only family member in this country apart from my children and husband, and so there will be no wake.

I am also looking for a book to explain death to her (preferably with Christian beliefs)

GupX Sat 03-Nov-12 00:06:14

Lifetimes is a good book. Not a Christian message per se but makes death 'normal' part of life, if you know what I mean.

If she's really keen, I would do it, as long as you are happy to do it.

PhyllisDoris Sat 03-Nov-12 00:08:09

I'd take her. It will put her mind at rest, and the younger one us when one sees a dead person, the better IMO. Will hopefully mean she won't be squeamish later in life.

hellymelly Sat 03-Nov-12 00:13:24

I'm sorry you've lost your Mum, my Dad died a few weeks ago so I know how it feels. I also have a five year old and I think she would have been traumatised by seeing Dad, he looked so very "dead",and somehow not like himself. It didn't come up with my dds (I also have a 7 year old), and it wouldn't have been possible anyway, as they weren't at the hospital with me (he had died en route) and then my Dad donated his brain for research so his body would have looked distressing. My dd's did want to talk about what happened though, "why" he died, lots of details, and I think the unspoken fear for them (and me!) is DH or me dying, as they slightly touched on that. It is very hard to know what to do, but I think if you can avoid it then her not seeing the body might be best. She is very small still. My grandfather was laid out in his study when he died, I was 8,and I didn't go and see him, and sometimes think I should have, but actually seeing Dad was quite upsetting and I don't think it always helps. Bodies in coffins can look so different from the living person that it can be quite a shock, she may not really recognise your Mum. The finality of it does hit home I suppose, but I think your DD is very little to deal with it. You however know her and are the best judge as to how she might respond. (if you do go ahead I would explain how different your Mum will look). Could she put something in the coffin as a compromise?

FreckledLeopard Sat 03-Nov-12 00:17:56

I took DD to see her great-grandmother's body at the undertaker - she was 10 at the time and wanted to say goodbye. If you think your DD will be more understanding and accepting of death then I think it's a good idea.

So sorry about your mum sad

JessePinkman Sat 03-Nov-12 00:23:49

I would avoid as much of it as it possibible really. I've seen dead people and coffins. It's really sad. Can't you just talk about your mum, keep her memory alive, her traditions, make it easier for your dd, without the hit of a coffin. Sorry for your loss.

tallwivglasses Sat 03-Nov-12 00:26:09

My sympathies. Dd at 15 went to see my mum. She was warned mum's mouth would be sewn up but it was still a shock. There was no way I wanted to see mum like that and she'd have agreed with me - 'morbid'. I think dd was glad she'd seen her but I think she'd have had nightmares if she'd been younger. Would a photo be a compromise?

fuckwittery Sat 03-Nov-12 00:35:30

Hellymelly, sorry about your Dad.
It definitely seemed to open up a lot of fears for my 5 yr old, she was asking whether some people die when they are not old, and saying that she was worried that Daddy or I would die when she and her sister are still children. This is something she's said for a little while, ever since she was aware that my Dad died when I was 6. Today her reassuring message was "don't worry mum, you're a grown up, you don't need your mum any more!".

My mum looked very grey and well, dead, afterwards. While I was sitting next to her after she passed (very peacefully) it was OK, but when I stood up to leave and looked back on her I found it quite shocking. DD seems to be asking such grown up questions about it all about this, it's really surprised me.

Lifetimes looks a lovely book (and I used the empty shell analogy) but I'm really keen to find a book with the message about heaven as I'm finding this a huge comfort at the moment and I think my DD does as well. (although when I'd said too many times that Granny was in heaven with Jesus, she wailed, and what about GOD mummy, GOD is there too, everybody always forgets about God and just says Jesus). Then I struggled with why both God and Jesus are in heaven. No-one tells you that you have to become a theologian when you have children. I ended up by saying that heaven was a very hard place to understand or explain how it worked but we just had to believe.

Phyllis & Freckled - exactly, I think it will help understand and as she is young she will not be squeamish and have all the preconceptions about death we have.

fuckwittery Sat 03-Nov-12 00:37:57

I wish my big catholic family lived in England so we could have a wake. I would just bring my DD in a room with lots of people, so much more normal, I think just me and her and the body will scare her.

mynaughtylittlesister Sat 03-Nov-12 00:39:47

Sorry that your Mum has passed. My Mum passed earlier this year, my youngest (who was at the time 11) wanted to see my mum as did my eldest who was almost 18. My middle child didn't. I went to see my mum at the earliest time that we could see her, I made a hard choice - she had really deteriorated more than I would have thought. I told my youngest that no she could not see her but instead we would have a private saying good bye and flowers etc at a different time to the funeral (yes she did come to the funeral) and this worked well. My almost 18 yr old obviously was different, I explained exactly what I saw before we went in, said I didn't think that she should go etc..... but she still wanted to go, so I took her - she howled and even now 10 months on wishes she never went.

It is a really hard choice to make, I went to see my Mum first without my children, and I was shocked at how different she looked from when she actually passed (I was with her when she passed and if my children had seen my Mum then I wouldn't have been upset as she looked so peaceful). I tried to talk my eldest out of it and tried to get her to remember Nanny as she was! But she so wanted to see her and say good bye.

Touch wood, my youngest has not held it against me, we did do a little ceremony for Nanny and whenever she asks we pop some flowers on her grave.

Thinking of you xx

BreconBeBuggered Sat 03-Nov-12 00:49:03

Oh, this is hard. Sometimes our DC passionately want serious things that won't necessarily be good for them. However, I don't think there's anything intrinsically scary about a body in a coffin. They look like a place the person used to inhabit, if that makes any sense, rather than a dead body. I say that as someone with no religious beliefs.

fuckwittery Sat 03-Nov-12 00:50:15

mynaughtylittlesister, thank you, I will definitely think about what you just said re the body and how upsetting it was for your 18 year old. My DH is a police officer (regularly sees dead bodies) and thinks it won't be pleasant.

I like your username, DD loves the naughtylittlesister books.

As an aside, I forgot about asking about how to tell my 2.5 year old as well. She hasn't got a clue, but I'll take her to the empty house at the weekend and I think she might ask questions. She really doesn't have a lot of language at the moment so it might be limited to "where granny?", and me saying "granny gone", and looking sad.

MrsRhettButler Sat 03-Nov-12 01:06:09

I personally wouldn't take a 5yo to see a body, I saw the body of my baby cousin at around that age and the picture has never left my head.

I've seen quite a few bodys as an adult and I think the worst thing is how 'different' they look. They don't look like themselves and I'm in no way squeamish or scared but they look very, well, dead. sad

Do you really want that to be the last picture she has of her grandmother?

Obviously you'll do what you think best and you know your child but personally my opinion would be not to.

Sorry you've lost your mum sad

ChippingInLovesAutumn Sat 03-Nov-12 01:29:24

I'm going to go against the grain here and say I think that you should take her. Just explain to her again when you are on your way in that her Granny's soul isn't there anymore, so as that's the bit that makes you move & smile and everything else, she will look a bit different to how she remembers Granny. I think you risk making things more scary, more 'unknown' etc if you don't take her when she has asked to see her.

As for the little one, I'd tell her about Granny dying and going to heaven etc & that Granny will <whatever your beliefs are - I would say, still love you & miss you and look down on you from heaven, but that she can't come back here from heaven> . They understand more than we give them credit for, so best to tell her really. Of course she wont understand it too much, but she wont understand not being told anything either - if that makes sense.

ChippingInLovesAutumn Sat 03-Nov-12 01:30:35

I'm sorry you are worrying about this on top of losing your Mum x

SolosBigBangers Sat 03-Nov-12 01:55:23

Sorry for your loss fw but I agree with ChippingIn.
When my Dad died, Dd was 2.7yo and Ds was 11yo. They saw their Grandad within minutes of his death from cancer and also visited him at the funeral home after 2 weeks and he had not been embalmed. He looked fine, but it was clear that he was no longer in there iyswim? they also attended his funeral (full Catholic mass and a shortish ceremony at the crematorium, plus a celebration of his life afterwards) I just think it's an important part of life knowing that people around us do die. My Dd is now 5.10 and we were at another family funeral last Friday. My children were the only children there and they behaved impeccably, respectfully and lifted the mood a little.
Your Dd sounds as though she would be better seeing her Dg before her body goes, but of course it is only a decision that you can make, but it is a decision that cannot be reversed if you later feel it was the wrong one ~ whatever you decide.
Oh and you will usually be advised whether or not it's a good idea to view the body by the people in attendance at the funeral home or chapel of rest, so I'm fairly confident that you and your Dd would not witness something awful if you follow their advice.
Good luck with everything and remember to look after yourself and your needs.

RyleDup Sat 03-Nov-12 02:02:41

I'm not sure if its a good idea to see the body. Its nice to have memories of soneone alive and happy. When they have died, well they look different, and if its a negative experience then you can't erase that memory.
I'm sorry about your mum.

CailinDana Mon 05-Nov-12 13:44:12

I'd bring her. In Ireland it's totally normal to see the body, to touch it and kiss it, and most people find it very comforting. In some families it's still normal to keep the body at home, and for the family to wash and dress the body themselves and then lay it out for the day in their own bedroom so people can come and visit. It takes away the mystery around death and makes it a normal part of life, if a very very sad one. It's also comforting for the family to have the body attended by loving people rather than locked away somewhere.

I actually find the fact that the person looks dead very reassuring. It's hard not to believe in a soul when you see just how much a person changes when their soul is gone. In essence the person is no longer there and what's being buried is just their container. I am actually comforted by that thought.

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