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My 7-year-old nephew has a close relationship with his terminally ill grandfather. I'm not sure Brandon understands how ill his grandfather really is. What's your opinion about Brandon attending the funeral when his grandfather dies? He's never seen a dead body, and I'm worried that this first time will be more upsetting because it's his "Grandpa." -B. V., DEL.
I support giving Brandon a choice, but let's back up a minute. During this end-of-life time, I'd encourage Brandon's parents to speak with him about Grandpa's serious illness, explaining that sometimes doctors can't make people well again and that he may die soon. You and the other adults in Brandon's life must be honest about Grandpa's condition now so he'll trust what you tell him later about the funeral. In his classic book Peace of Mind, Rabbi Joshua Loth Liebman wisely noted that "a child can stand tears but not treachery; sorrow but not deceit."
So Brandon can decide whether to attend the funeral, his parents should tell him what will take place so he has enough facts to make an informed decision. In simple terms appropriate to his age and developmental stage, they can explain how Grandpa might look like he's sleeping, even though he's dead. If Brandon has ever seen a dead bird or other animal, they might remind him that it's similar. If Brandon's parents believe they'll see their loved ones in heaven, they might discuss this with him at this point. They should tell him it's all right to cry, and they should prepare him to see his parents and other adults crying because this is a sad time for everyone.
They should also reassure him that his parents (or someone else he trusts) will sit with him at the funeral and that he may leave at any time if he wishes. This is very empowering to a youngster who may find the experience more disturbing than he expected.
What if Brandon chooses not to attend? Make sure he's looked after at home by someone familiar and kind. To honor his grandfather's memory, he might draw a picture of a special time they shared or help bake cookies for the gathering after the funeral. Whether he attends the funeral or not, don't leave Brandon out of the mourning for his beloved Grandpa.
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