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A Child’s Perspective on Death

March 30, 2010

It was 1964 and the central Illinois funeral home was packed with people.

They had congregated to honor the life of William Q. Leach, humanitarian, war veteran, public speaker, corporate promotions director extradonaire, and beloved father.

I know, because he was mine and I was there.

On that particular day I was ushered into the funeral home wearing my Sunday best. The problem was, it wasn’t a Sunday. This was one of the first indicators that today was different and that life as I had known it, would never be the same. I was eight years old.

To be honest, I got that message just a few days prior, when my mother picked me up from school. She seemed upset, but I was more concerned with reporting the fun and interesting things that had happened in my classroom that day. Mom listened politely for a bit and then cleared her throat.

“I have something to tell you,” she said, pulling off the road. “Daddy died today.”

I glanced at her, wondering if there was more she had to say, but she sat quietly crying and avoiding my gaze. I didn’t know what to do, so I simply acknowledged that I had heard her words with an “okay” and went on reporting my day’s adventures.

Except it wasn’t okay for me; I just wouldn’t really know that until many years later.

Fast forward to the funeral and the casket containing my father located at the front of the room. My mother chose an open casket so that those paying their last respects could see and talk to body of the man they had known and loved.

I don’t remember the viewing but I do recall wondering “why are all of these people talking to each other so loudly when it is obvious my daddy is taking a nap?”

After the service and a slow, boring drive to the cemetery, the crowd came to my grandmother’s home for food and drink. I got to see cousins I hadn’t played with in awhile and my favorite uncle was there, too. I got lots of hugs and the old people asked me about my school work, wondered about my best friend and suggested a nice vacation for the upcoming summer. But the really good part was that nobody seemed to care if I ate an extra cookie or two or helped myself to the cheese dip and crackers.

I felt like I was in heaven.

Today I have discovered that thousands of people have learned the news of a loved one’s passing in much the same way: a few rushed words of non-conversation to “get it over with” and a quick return to the normal world of friends, food and frivolity.

Many of us fear bringing up mention of the deceased out of concern for the griever’s welfare. We don’t want to cause a meltdown or initiate sadness, and we certainly don’t want to put ourselves in an uncomfortable position.

Until now. Coming very soon is my latest book, Come Out of Your Shell: Questions to Start a Death Conversation When All You’d Rather Do Is Clam Up! Readers will be treated to questions that seek to highlight the good and the bad about your deceased loved one and help ease you into a natural conversation that remembers and honors the deceased. And I offer my thoughts on the reasons these questions deserve to be asked and responded to.

Do you have a young person in your life that is coping with loss? I offer tips on how to support them in this week’s issue of In the Flow. You can sign up to receive a copy by visiting and putting your name and e-mail in the box on the right side of the page.

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