As adults understanding death is never easy, and it is especially so with children. Our job as caring adults is to help them grasp what has happened and how it will affect them. Their main concern is that they feel safe and know that adults will be available to care for them.
The first death most children experience is either the loss of a pet
or a grandparent. Both are important teaching moments is sharing your values.
Be open and honest, and calmly ask a lot of questions so your child can explain what they are feeling and experiencing. Children and young adults will be ready to talk at unusual times and in unusual places. Be ready and willing to talk openly whenever your child is, and look for times that are comfortable for both of you.
If your belief system is such that you feel that Grandpa has gone to Heaven, explain how you feel to the child. In my family, we used the analogy of the glove with the hand removed, to illustrate the spirit leaving the body. Whatever your beliefs, try to explain them in a way that also allows children to feel their sadness, loss and pain. Our religious beliefs do not insulate us from the reality of death, but act as a resource as we confront loss.
Older children may be more interested in the actual process of death, and want reassurance that death is not usually unexpected and that we, as parents, will not die right now. Younger children may not be sure whether they should be having fun with other children when the adults are crying.
Explain that many people handle news of a death in different ways. Some may cry, some may look sad or some may even laugh about the fun memories. It is all okay.
Listen Without Judging
Children want to please the adults in their lives, so they are watching for your verbal and non- verbal clues on what will make you happy. If they sense their questions are annoying or upsetting you, they will stop asking questions. Indicate to them that each person grieves and misses the loved one differently and there is no right or wrong way. Encourage them to talk to others who are also involved and to share stories of happy times together, if they feel like it.
Talking may come naturally while driving in the car, preparing dinner, or relaxing before bedtime. It is important right from the beginning to talk about the death and what happened. This is the time to reassure your child that it will be different for all of you, but that you will make sure they are safe and cared for.
The more you and your child can be open in talking and sharing, the more real this will become to you and your child. While you do not want to burden him or her with details, you do want to share your concerns and listen to theirs.
Allow Them To Say Goodbye
When is the right age to allow children to visit a dying loved one or attend services? It depends on the temperament, age, and maturity of the child as well as the family’s expectations. Whether they attend the actual funeral is a mutual decision, after a caring adult explains what will happen, who will be there, and what to expect. If they were close to the deceased, they should be allowed to take some part in commemorating the life, perhaps by planting a tree or writing a letter.
Funerals or memorial services help us accept the reality of death. When our loved one dies, the impact on everyone’s life is so powerful and so shattering that we want to dismiss it as unreal. Some sort of a service or viewing helps us reconnect with the reality. As we look at the dead body of a loved one or the casket that contains it, we have to accept that death has occurred and let go of the fantasy that the person will come walking back in the door at any minute.
If the body is not presentable to be viewed, perhaps a trusted adult can convey to the child directly that they personally saw the body and it was indeed their loved one. The child is much more likely to believe that death has occurred if they can go back again and again to the trusted adult to confirm that it was actually their loved one.
Helping them to know that the person they loved has indeed died and will not return may lead some children to imagine all sorts of things. Be very open to conversations and reassure them that life will be different without their loved one, but they are safe.
Yes, death is a part of life, but our first brush with losing someone can imprint how we handle deaths and disappointments in the future. The main thing is to reassure the children that they are loved and safe. Love and support does not end with physical life. Memories of Grandpa will enrich their experiences forever, even as they grieve and feel the acute loss of the relationship as they have known it.
Join Our Community
Thank you for reading this article, which is excerpted from a new book coming soon at http://www.ArtichokePress.com Be sure to claim your free book and leave a comment. Thanks from the center of my artichoke heart. (c)Judy Helm Wright