The recent loss of actor Chadwick Boseman has sent a wave of collective grief around the world. Arguably most famous for his role as Black Panther (T’Challa) in the Marvel film franchise, Chadwick played the first black superhero; an important role-model for so many. His untimely death has affected even his young fans deeply.
As a result, we have seen photos shared on social media of children creating their own personal ceremonies, using the toy figures of the Avengers, or setting up tableaus or altars for their fallen hero. Even very young children, who learn through play, are demonstrating their understanding and awareness. Pictures of fans with their arms crossed in the ‘Wakanda Forever’ pose, and others simply lighting candles, making drawings, or writing about their sadness, reveal their sensitivity and compassion.
This, for me, highlights the importance of Ceremony and Ritual. Even young children are not oblivious to the significance and meaning of Rites of Passage. Birthdays, Graduation from a school or class, routines and customs for religious holidays, and of course Coming of Age traditions such as a Bat or Bar Mitzvah, Confirmation or First Communion, for instance, are all afforded the gravitas and respect due to them by our young people.
When it comes to Funerals, however, children are often not involved or aware of the majority of arrangements. Sometimes they were also not privy to how seriously ill their relative was, or how upset the rest of the family truly are. This can lead them to feel isolated, left-out and confused. They know something is going on, but not the details.
Of course for some families, it is the right thing to not include young children in Funerals, or to shield them from witnessing the true extent of the raw pain of their relatives’ grief. Each situation is unique. The care-givers of the child will know them best, and will know what would be most beneficial to them. But thanks to films, television and access to social media, our young people are becoming more aware and informed, and at an earlier age than their predecessors. We owe them the right to offer them some choices, and to be involved in some of the decision-making.
I have led some funerals where young children have read out letters to, or shown paintings of their loved-one. Some have sung songs, lit candles or placed flowers. There have been poems, and bubbles blown. Others have chosen not to directly contribute, but to stand next to another relative who does. And some have made the decision not to attend the funeral, but to honour the person in other ways. Bereavement is a huge event that greatly impacts on a child’s environment, whether or not they themselves were close to the person who died. The mood of the household will have changed, routines will be disrupted, and they will pick up on the emotions of others. They deserve the option of being informed, and helping to make some simple decisions, such as listening in to possible music choices, or asking what flowers or colours they think the person favoured.
Ceremony is so important, and marks the significant transitions threaded throughout our lives. When it comes to the next generation, let’s not leave out such a natural and personal one: Death. Our youngsters have clearly demonstrated that they understand, and that ceremony helps them to express their feelings, and accept what has happened. It is a step on the road to healing. It is a way to unite with others and come together in sharing thoughts and feelings. It’s honest. We can learn a lot from them. Chadwick Boseman, thank you for your ongoing positive influence, and huge contribution. Rest in Power and Peace.
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