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Death is one of the most difficult subjects to face, both for adults and children. In reality, they are capable of taking it more naturally, but it is our own fears that make us turn the subject and sometimes even hide the death of a relative. Nevertheless, hiding the death of a loved one from a child, and even death in general, is a mistake.
To make the subject a little easier, Wolf Erlbruch, a German writer and cartoonist, created several stories where death appears naturally and for this reason he recently received the ALMA prize, the world's most important prize for children's literature. In one of the stories, entitled "Duck and Death" the duck asks. Who are you? Why are you following me so closely? Death answers: I'm glad you finally saw me. I am the death.
The author published other titles such as The Big Question or The Topo Who Wanted to Know Who Had Done That to His Head, faces all kinds of existential and philosophical questions in his stories and makes available to all issues that can be complicated.
He is a master of the art of illustration and at the same time a great humanist who deals with human relationships, relationships with the environment, feelings and responsibility for one's life. Erlbruch is a committed author who touches on difficult subjects showing that there is no age to understand life.
The psychotherapist Irvin Yalom, explains that children go through different stages regarding their relationship with death. In his book, "Looking at the Sun", Yalom talks about the stages of life where this tension is most present. “Young children cannot help but notice the glimpses of mortality that surround them: dead leaves, insects and pets, disappearing grandparents, grieving parents, endless surfaces covered with gravestones in cemeteries. Children may simply observe, ponder and, following the example of their parents, be silent. If they openly express their anxiety, the discomfort of the parents will be evident, who of course will be quick to offer comfort. Sometimes adults try to find reassuring words, or to transfer the whole thing to the distant future, or to appease the anxiety of children with stories that deny death by talking about resurrection, eternal life, heaven and reunion.
Typically, the fear of death is hidden between the age of approximately six and puberty. Then, during adolescence, death anxiety erupts in full force. Adolescents often worry about death; a few think about committing suicide. Today many adolescents respond to this anxiety by becoming masters and givers of death in the parallel life of violent computer games. Others challenge with black humor and songs that they take lightly, or watching horror movies with their friends.
In another passage in his book, he maintains that “It is not easy to live each moment with total awareness that we will die. It's like trying to look at the sun head-on - you can only endure it for a little while. As we cannot live paralyzed by fear, we generate methods to soften the terror that death produces in us. We project ourselves into the future through our children, we become rich, famous, we grow more and more,… others seek to transcend the painful separation that is death by merging with something: a loved one, a cause, a community, a Supreme Being " .
Faced with hiding the death of a loved one from a child, what we should do according to Yalom is:
- Talk about death directly and realistically.
- Never hide what happens from children.
- Accompany them to process the different stages of which death is one of them.
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