When a deceased family member or friend chooses to be cremated, children may have questions about what cremation means. When explaining cremation to a child, try to keep the explanation honest, yet simple, keeping the child’s developmental level in mind.
For younger children, you may explain in this way:
“Before Grandma died, she let us know that she wanted to be cremated, rather than buried in the ground. In order to understand cremation, it is important to remember that a person’s body and soul are separate and that once the person is no longer alive; their body can feel no pain. In cremation, the body, which feels no pain, is put into a very, very hot room, which is so hot that the body turns to soft powdery ashes. Then, there are different things we can do with the ashes. Our family has decided to do ________ with the ashes in honor of Grandma and so that we can remember how much we love her”.
It is important to avoid words such as “fire” or “burn”, which may have a frightening connotation for young children.
Let your child know whether the ashes are to be scattered, or kept in an urn. Children are curious and may want to look at the ashes in the urn. This should not be discouraged if the child wants to see them. Follow the cues from the child as to how much they do or do not want to see and know. Many children appreciate having a small urn of their own to keep. These can be found at the funeral home or through reputable Internet retailers of cremation jewelry.
If possible, arrange a time for you and your child to be with the body before cremation is carried out. Providing an opportunity to say “goodbye” and beginning to accept the reality of the death can be a positive experience for the family and child.
Depending on the age of your child, he or she may want to be included in planning the memorial and what to do with the remains. Familiarize yourself with the many types of cremation memorials available (burial of remains in the family plot, “scatter” in a place of significance, interring in an urn garden, placing urn in a niche, in the family home, or dividing the ashes between family members in multiple urns). Although your child may not fully understand, participation helps to establish a sense of comfort and understanding that life does go on even though someone important has died.
Prepared adults will find themselves much less uncomfortable when asked questions about cremation by their children.