Previous Part: Funeral of a Child in Islam
When I lost my youngest son, one of the hardest thing was to tell this to my daughters – who were anxiously waiting for their brother’s return from the hospital. They had named him themselves. They had practiced with pillows on how to hold him. They had probably envisioned him as well.
So turning all that down seemed a little harder than I expected but also went smoother than I expected alhamdulillah – as the eldest was introduced to the concept of death long ago. She’s 5 now but was introduced with this concept by the age of 3. She may not have realized the gravity of it though till she actually experienced it.
Some may think that a concept of death is too early to teach at such young age but death is an inevitable part of life and it is our responsibility to ensure our kids are aware of it. You may be surprised at how aware children already are about death. They see dead insects, dead birds and animals on the road. Children read about death in the stories, sometimes watch it in cartoons too or even role-play death in school plays. Without realizing it, they already have some exposure to the concept. It’s a law of nature. It means that there’s space in the world for everyone who’s born.
As stated by Sheryl on “how to build resilient kids even after a loss” – “As parents, teachers and caregivers, we all want to raise resilient kids — to develop their strength so they can overcome obstacles big and small. Resilience leads to better health, greater happiness and more success. The good news is that resilience isn’t a fixed personality trait; we’re not born with a set amount of it. Resilience is a muscle we can help kids build.”
Recently my grandmother passed away as well and the topic of death surfaced all over again – probably uncovering all the previous wounds that the news of death brings along with it. Which is why my 5 year old kept repeating how Allah took her super nano (great grandma) away just like He took away Muhammad (her brother) and that both of them are now in the graveyard…
Even if you have never experienced a death of a loved one (and may Allah keep you safe from such hurt as long as possible), It’s important to know how to introduce this concept to a child:
1) Have a heart-to-heart conversation
Get on your child’s eye level so he/she knows that you are interested and engaged in the conversation. That you care. That their feelings matter as much as yours.
My daughters kissed their brother and went off playing with other kids but they only got to actually realize it when they were laid down to sleep. The eldest cried and cried and cried…At that moment, we got time to have a heart to heart conversation.
Don’t hide your grief from your child. Children are sensitive barometers of emotion and are tremendous observers. You may think that watching you break down might frighten your kids, but to your surprise, the kids will end up comforting you and you will comfort them, which will help ease your sadness and even their own grief. Sometimes hugs do the job best!
…Allah does not punish for the shedding of tears or the grief of the heart, but punishes or bestows mercy for the utterances of this (and he (PBUH) pointed to his tongue). [Bukhari and Muslim]
Don’t be afraid to talk about or share memories of the loved one you lost…Even to this day, she usually talks about how cute her brother was. And asks everyone if they thought the same…So I let her know that yes we were blessed and still are – because one day we will meet him again in Shaa Allah if we all strive for Jannah more and more everyday…
3) Tell them the truth
If they see you crying, the truth would give an explanation for your tears and pain. If you’re not crying, truth is still essential. Children are extremely curious beings and if you haven’t talked about death yet, you may find a window of opportunity when they discover a dead bird or insect etc. Try to reinforce the concept that all living things eventually die as we all belong to Allah and we all will one day return to Him. Whoever lives, will die and whoever dies will live again.
“And do not mix the truth with falsehood or conceal the truth while you know [it].” [Qur’an – 2:42]
4) Use simple and clear words
Using realistic words to describe death helps the grieving process. Although they may not need to know more than what they asked about. Give them simple answers. Treat their inquiries seriously. You surely want your child to come back to you with more questions in the future. Even if they are weird. They help them learn. And most of all, they help YOU learn!
Explaining the concept of “rooh/ruh” (spirit) really helps as well. I explained my 4 year old with the help of her doll. I told her that your doll has a body but no rooh so she can’t talk, move or listen. No matter how you’ll play with it, it won’t feel anything. It won’t get scared. It won’t get hurt. What makes us human beings different is that we have rooh. It’s invisible, but it’s the main source of our life and it belongs to Allah. He can take it away anytime and our soul would LOVE to meet its’ Creator.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said: “Whoever loves to meet Allah, then Allah loves to meet him. And whoever dislikes meeting Allah, then Allah dislikes meeting him.” [Tirmidhi]
5) Make a gratitude list with your child
Don’t think that death puts a ban on joy and laughter. Laughter is a great healing tool and healing doesn’t mean forgetting your loved one. Let the good memories stay with you for you to be able to move on and live a productive life in shaa Allah.
I filled the gratitude journal with my daughter as a part of healing and experienced beautiful statements like: “Alhamdulillah that Allah took my brother away where he will not feel any more pain.” – she did mention that she didn’t want her brother and great grandmother to go – she wanted them to stay with her, but she understands that this is the way of Allah and He knows best! That Allah’s decisions are perfect! He knows best!
“Alhamdulillah ‘ala kulli haal” is one of the most difficult phrases to say. When we say Alhamdulillah for everything, we usually mean that we are grateful for all the blessings that we feel good about. “Alhamdulillah ‘ala kulli haal” is for times when we go through (apparent) negative experiences in life. We forget that those things may also be blessings – but in a disguise that we don’t like. May Allah always keep us grateful. No matter what. For gratitude brings positivity. It’s the hope that keeps you pushing forward for better. It’s the only light to cling onto in dark times of losing a loved one. Hence I filled the page 85 in the productivity journal for Muslims as well – turning negative experiences into positive lessons…
6) Introduce them to the life of Hereafter
Use this opportunity to introduce life after death if you haven’t already. Let them know how life is an opportunity to live a better life in the hereafter. You can relate the concept of Allah taking the soul away with sleeping – as Allah says in the Qur’an:
“And it is He who takes your souls by night and knows what you have committed by day. Then He revives you therein that a specified term may be fulfilled. Then to Him will be your return; then He will inform you about what you used to do.” [Qur’an – 6:60]
Although my daughter knows about the concept of illiyyeen (wherein lies the record of the righteous) and sijjeen (wherein lies the record of the wicked) – you may skip it if you fear answering their questions. But don’t deceive them. If you don’t know the answer to their question, simply admit it to your child. Then find out the answer together.
I got to talk to her about barzakh (intermediary realm – period between a person’s death and his resurrection on the Day of Resurrection), soul, grave, munkar nakeer (angels who test the faith of the dead in their graves) and so many other things that we will only witness on the day of judgement. The concept of Jannah came alive for her even more this way. You can ask your child to imagine what their Jannah will be like? Let them close their eyes and imagine it with all their senses.
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It’s a great way to enforce that death isn’t really a negative experience. It’s just a natural one. The more they’ll know about Jannah, the more they’ll associate positive things with such worldly loss (even if it means that their beloved pet passes away or they lose something in this world that was very dear to them). You can explore everything about Jannah through this JANNAH JOURNAL while engaging all 5 senses of your child.
7) Prepare them beforehand for a funeral
If they’re going to be around a dead-body, then let them know what to expect in advance. Things like: There will be funeral prayer and many people will be there – some crying, some offering condolences, some running different funeral errands etc.
If you’re supporting someone going through a death of a loved one then try to model appropriate behavior regarding death in front of your children by expressing sympathy towards someone who has lost a loved one. And connecting them with Allah in this hard time – making sure not to utter words that Allah doesn’t like (words like – questioning Allah’s qadr etc.)
“…Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) took Ibrahim and kissed him and smelled him and later we entered Abu Saif’s house and at that time Ibrahim was in his last breaths, and the eyes of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) (p.b.u.h) started shedding tears. `Abdur Rahman bin `Auf said, “O Allah’s Apostle, even you are weeping!” He said, “O Ibn `Auf, this is mercy.” Then he wept more and said, “The eyes are shedding tears and the heart is grieved, and we will not say except what pleases our Lord, O Ibrahim ! Indeed we are grieved by your separation.” [Bukhari]
8) Be prepared for a LOT of questions
Share information in small dosages. Gauge what your child can handle by giving information in small bits at a time. You’ll know what more to do based on the questions your child asks. Some may say nothing while some won’t stop asking questions.
– if I shout really loud, will he wake up then?
– can I hold him?
– can we keep him forever?
– can we still play with him?
– why can’t we dress him in colorful clothes?
– is he feeling any pain?
The questions may be difficult to answer if you are going through the loss yourself but can really help a child understand the concept and accept it wholeheartedly.
9) Also be prepared for variety of emotions:
One of my daughter seemed completely fine while the other couldn’t stop asking questions and then crying continuously at night…Children’s reactions may vary. Some may cry, some may ignore, some may isolate themselves, some may even be angry with Allah or jealous of others with more siblings… Allow your child to grieve in his or her own way. How kids cope with the loss depends on things like their age, how close they felt to the person who died, and the support they receive.
Listen and comfort. Ask them to try putting emotions into words. Encourage kids to say what they’re thinking and feeling in the days, weeks, and months following the loss. Help kids be self aware so they can put their feelings into words in Shaa Allah. It can be a great outlet so they don’t bubble things up inside.
10) Let them know that good deeds never die even if the person does
Tell your kids about immortality within our mortal beings. The deeds that don’t die with us. They stay while our body returns to the earth and soul returns to Allah. They can benefit or harm us – even without a tangible form.
My daughter keeps asking:
– If I die, will you die with me?
– If you die, can I die with you?
I know these are really hard questions to answer. But I tell her that anyone can die at any time if Allah wills. Young, old, healthy or sick. Anyone. Anytime. Including you and I. But what matters is our good deeds. So collect them as much as you can! “Jannah points” as my kids like to call them.
Has your child ever asked a difficult question? How did you handle it? Please share your experiences and go hug them today a little tighter, a little warmer and a little longer – because time won’t wait for them or for you…Live your best today so you can make the best out of tomorrow in shaa Allah!