Elizabeth Wagele

The Career Within You

How Much Truth Can Children Handle?

Withholding Information Increases the Pain of Loss

Posted Sep 08, 2010

When Marvin was eleven, his sister suddenly wasn't there. No one in his family said anything about what had happened to her. He started to have terrible nightmares about her, trouble sleeping, and barely made it through school. When he was grown he learned she had been murdered. He felt terrible that she had had such a violent death. He also felt betrayed that his parents had not told him the truth, that he had not been allowed to feel his feelings about what had happened, nor mourn her with the rest of the family.

Parents are misguided or not aware of the damage they're doing when they don't tell kids as soon as possible when something dreadful has happened that will change their lives. We may also be suffering the same loss, but children are more delicate than we are. As difficult as it may be to face an emotional reaction, it's a mistake to withhold information of the death of a beloved friend or close relative. Though parents may feel devastated themselves, children need to be included in the mourning process.

Samantha's father was murdered in his office when she was six years old. She heard her mother talking to her Christian Scientist practitioner on the phone that night for a long time. The next morning all the photographs of her father were gone and he was gone, but nothing was said about him. Samantha's mother was never available to listen to her feelings. Nobody in her family was allowed to refer to her father.

Here's a different kind of challenge: The weekend Terry was born her father had an affair with her mother's mother, who had come to help out. Unfortunately, the family never sought professional help to try to mend. As Terry grew up, she sensed something was not right but she didn't know what it was. Something was awry with the spider web of family relationships and she felt strangely responsible. When she was told the truth in her twenties her world started to make more sense and she gradually began to feel less burdened.

Seven-year-old Irene was visiting relatives when she was escorted home by airplane to a house filled with relatives who didn't speak to her about why they were there. They paid no attention to her at all. She kept insisting that someone say something until one of them broke down and told her the truth: her father had died, leaving six children behind. Being ignored haunted her almost as much as the loss itself.

The Questioner personality is associated with needing to feel safe and asking "what if?" Preparing for eventualities can be constructive -- or negative when in the form of compulsive worrying. Questioners we interviewed for "The Career Within You" liked to investigate things from many angles. As children, they search for the truth to help feel secure. Imagine yourself as the Questioner part of a child who needs to know what's going on. Sensing a lack of information results in feeling insecure.

P. S. I'm collecting stories of 2,000 words or less about near-death or uplifting dying experiences. Write to www.wagele.com  [please write "your book" in the title line]