When a parent dies, children can end up with strangers – either in foster care or through adoption. At one time as my husband and I were rewriting our trust documents, having learned about the realities of a foster care system that sends a young person out the door with no resources at the age of 18, we made provisions to lower the age at which our children could access the financial accounts we had created for them. Originally, we were more concerned about immature mismanagement of the funds. From this new awareness, we realized those funds might be critical to our children’s survival, if they lost us.
Losing a parent at any age can be life changing but losing a parent while still in childhood robs the child of important supports going forward. Death is absolute, so no well-meaning person can change that reality. If there is no other person – another parent, grandparent or extended family willing to step in – then child welfare and the courts step in.
Even for a young child, closure is necessary, even if understanding is lacking. Death is an important and natural part of life. Whenever possible, there should be an opportunity to be with someone in death, who has meant something to you in life. It is true, it can be a traumatic shock the first time one sees a dead person but it is also instructive. The intimacy of “saying goodbye” before a burial can help heal a young person’s loss, all the way into adulthood.
Even adult adopted children can be very wounded by being deprived of experiencing the death of their loved one. When my mom tried to get her adoption file from the state of Tennessee in the 1990s, she was rejected (she was a Georgia Tann adoptee). More devastating than the rejection was learning that her mother had already died and that door to connect with her forever closed.
Never deny a child this opportunity. Think about it – who wouldn’t go to their parent’s funeral, regardless of age? The reality is that it will hurt. That is death. Every child (adopted, in foster care or otherwise) deserves a chance to say goodbye.