While many parents try to shield their children from aspects of death, other parents might help their children come to terms with it by exploring tombstones in graveyards, churchyards and cemeteries. This doesn’t have to be a solemn or frightening experience for the child or parent. Instead, you have many ways to turn this into a celebration of life.
Before taking your child into a cemetery, talk about behavior. Help your child learn empathy by thinking about anyone who might be visiting a family member. You can also explore an older cemetery where it is unlikely to meet the newly bereaved. Take a piece of butcher paper and lay it over the letters of the tombstone. Tape the paper in place with masking tape to hold it steady. Rub the surface with the long edge of a large crayon. Try several tombstones and compare the data when you leave. Ask the child to figure out how old each person was by subtracting the date of birth from the date of death. The prettiest tombstone rubbing can be put in a frame.
The Day of the Dead
In Mexico, Nov. 1 and 2 are known as El Dia de los Meurtos or the Day of the Dead. On these days, families go to visit family members who have died. They clean the graves and decorate the tombstones with flowers and other items. Marigolds are primarily used and known as the “flowers of the dead.” You can make your own paper marigolds with tissue paper and pipe cleaners. Fold a sheet of yellow tissue paper in half lengthwise then in half again lengthwise so you have a long, thin strip. Starting at the short side on one end of the strip, fold the paper half an inch. Flip the strip and fold a second half-inch fold creating the beginning of an accordion pleat. Continue to pleat the strip back and forth until the entire strip is folded like an accordion. Wrap the pipe cleaner tightly around the center of the pleated stack. Cut both sides of the paper on the ends to free the sheets. Pull each sheet up to fluff out the flower and create the illusion of petals. Take your flowers to the tombstone of a friend or family member. If no one is available, choose the tomb of someone long dead or decorate a Styrofoam tombstone at home.
Create Your Own Epitaph
Talk to child about how epitaphs celebrate people’s lives and show how they would like to be remembered. Show him older tombstones and explore funny, touching and inspirational epitaphs. Together, decorate a shirt boxes with brown or gray butcher paper. Write funny or inspirational epitaphs for imaginary people. This is also a good time to talk to the child about how you hope people see you. You can also talk to the child about what kind of life he wants to lead.
Take some of your funniest epitaphs and put them on cookies to share with friends. You can make sugar cookies from scratch and cover them with gray frosting. For a faster cookie, frost purchased cookies. With an icing tube, write your epitaphs on the cookies. Create special epitaphs for characters from your child’s favorite books or movies.