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GIVE KIDS HONEST ANSWERS ABOUT DEATH

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Dear Abby: After a recent family gathering, several of us decided to visit the grave of a recently departed loved one. As we gathered our coats, a 3-year-old in the group asked where we were going. She was told, "To visit Aunt Lola."

"Where?" she asked. The answer was, "Heaven."When we arrived at the cemetery, a relative pointed to the grave and told the child, "This is heaven, and this is where Aunt Lola lives." The child became noticeably upset and could not understand why her favorite aunt was living underground. Then she was told to blow kisses to the grave and became nearly hysterical.

When I later saw the child's mother, I asked if she knew what the other relatives had told her daughter about having gone to "heaven" to visit Aunt Lola. The mother said that was what she wanted her daughter told, and she was telling her the same thing!

Abby, I have taken several child psychology classes and have read a great deal on the topic. I've always been under the impression that children should never be told that a deceased person has "gone to heaven" because the child will then believe that heaven is a place they can visit, and that the deceased person may be coming back.

When I explained this to my relatives, they said I was being ridiculous because she was only 3 and would not remember any of this. Abby, I think she will remember. These relatives are well-educated, not ignorant. What is your opinion?

- Ridiculed Relative

in Richmond, Va.

Dear Relative: Experts agree that when talking to children about death, the language should be simple and honest. Euphemisms, such as telling a child a dead person is "asleep" or "in heaven," only increase confusion and fear. The discussion should be kept on an ap-propriate level for the child's age. Their natural questions will guide you - nothing should be over-explained.

Children grieve just as adults do. They should be assured that it is all right to express their feelings. When children lose someone with whom they have been extremely close, grief counseling may be in order.

Dear Abby: I am a recent widow. My wonderful husband died eight months ago following a debilitating illness of three years duration. We were completely faithful and devoted to each other throughout our marriage.

I have been asked out by several men whom I refused because I thought it was too soon after my husband's death. (Also, I had no interest in these men.)

I now find myself attracted to a widower who belongs to a group I belong to. If he asks me out, what is the respectable amount of time to wait before I accept a date? (I am feeling guilty just thinking about it.)

I would be embarrassed to be called on by a man (my neighbors might observe this) or be seen in public by friends on a date with a man. I value your advice.

- Recently Widowed

Dear Recently Widowed: There is no longer a specific period of mourning. If he asks you out tomorrow, don't hesitate to accept. Good friends and neighbors who care about you will be happy to see you enjoy yourself after all you've been through.

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1996 Universal Press Syndicate

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