Family, Friends Gather for Funeral of 9-Year-Old Shooting Victim Christina-Taylor Green

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Difficult to Explain Death to Young Children

Pat Loder understands just how tough it is to explain senseless death to children. Loder buried both her children -- 8-year-old Stephanie and 5-year-old Stephen -- in a shared coffin two decades ago this March.

A speeding motorcycle broadsided Loder's car as she attempted to turn left onto her street. Her only children died of injuries in the crash.

"It was very difficult for my daughter's classmates," said Loder, now 55 and executive director of Compassionate Friends, an international support group that helps those who have lost children.

"I am sure these kids will have nightmares," she said. "It was traumatic and violent. Ours was a sudden death, too. One day they are playing with a playmate and the next day there were gone."

"And it makes them feel unsafe," Loder said. "In their mind's eye, it's not safe to go to the corner market or to a friend's house without someone else. It's a natural part of the process."

But are these young grievers too young to attend the funeral?

"It's a very grown-up thing that happened to this little girl," said Loder. "She died, and these children are trying to make a grown-up decision about whether they want to go or not."

"Don't force them to go and don't keep them from going," she said. "They will regret it if they don't go if they feel they need to. They may not look at the casket. Let them lead the way."

Loder was so worried about her own daughter's classmates' reaction to the funeral that she arranged a closed coffin with photos of her children laid on top.

Stephen, 5, and Stephanie, 8, Loder were killed in a 1991 car crash in Michigan.

The Loders didn't want to make the experience for those younger children even more traumatic. "We didn't want her classmates to remember her that way."

Christina-Taylor Green Friends Will Want to 'Do Something'

Children left ribbons, drew pictures and sent handwritten notes, gestures that Loder said "helped me a great deal." One classmate, Amanda, who lived in the neighborhood, routinely left freshly picked flowers in the Loders' mailbox after the accident.

She appeared one day after the accident with a deck of Uno cards. "I'm lonely, and I'm pretty sure you are too," she told Loder, leading her to the kitchen table.

"My eyes started to moisten as I sat down at the table to play," writes Loder on the Compassionate Friends Web site. "Amanda got up, hugged me tight, and whispered quietly, 'I miss them too.'"

Loder said Christina-Taylor's Tucson friends will also want to do something for their classmate, "because they are hurting."

"We heard this over and over again and it didn't matter if my daughter had never mentioned the person," she said. "We heard, "She was my best friend." They think that whatever relationship they had with that child is extra important and it is."

Loder advises parents to allow children to "do something to help them nurture the grief they are feeling. Kids are kids and they will need to do a project to remember their classmate, like plant a tree."

Parents also need to be open to questions, according to Dr. Alan Kazdin, a leading child psychiatrist and director of the Yale Parenting Center.

"Make it so you're an 'askable' parent," he said. "'What's it like when a bullet goes in the head, mommy?' 'Why did someone want to kill my friend?' Don't not answer, which will increase a child's thinking about it."

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