This week a friend received the sad news that one of her parents died. On top of everything that event meant to her personally, that also meant that she had to be the one to break the news to her children and she had no idea how to do it or what to do next. Just a couple of years ago we encountered the same situation as a beloved grandmother passed away. So, how do you help your children deal with death and grieving over the grandparents?
Breaking the news. If you can talk to your children in advance of a grandparent's death it is a good time to prepare them for the concept of death and what will happen next. If you have had a pet die, then you can use that as an example. There are also a number of good storybooks to use to talk to them. The most important thing is to tell them the truth and to not "sugarcoat" it by using terms like "they fell asleep and won't wake up." Just want your child doesn't need to hear before they go to bed that night, as I learned when I was a young parent. My oldest was only 4 years old and there was a death in the family and I don't think he was willing to go to sleep for about a week after trying to put things gently.
To go or not to go to the funeral. That is a good question. Younger children may find that a funeral is disturbing or scary, especially with things like an open casket. In our case it was best to attend the memorial service and the wake with the children, and to avoid bringing them to the funeral and graveside service. But your children may be old enough to attend a funeral and understand it without fear. If so it is a good way of providing them with an opportunity to say goodbye. You may want to help them with writing a letter, drawing a picture, creating a craft or providing some other gift that they can leave at the funeral with their grandparent. Sometimes it helps with their fears of the funeral service.
Making memories. Help your children create a scrapbook or pictures and memories of their grandparents. If they were close to them it can help ease the pain of their sorrow as they remember all the fun family times together. If they aren't close, someday they may wish they had been or wish they knew more about their grandparent and a memory book is the perfect way to help them in the later years for any loss they may be feeling.
What's next? At first it may seem like the death of a grandparent didn't really affect your child, but they just like adults, need time to process information and find out how they feel about it. You may find that they will unexpectedly become sad because grandma or grandpa is no longer around. You may also find that they follow in your footsteps, so don't be afraid to show your sorrow or sadness when you are missing your parent. It is okay for kids to learn that their parents get sad too, and there is a lot on you after the loss of a parent. It will be hard to put on a happy face and pretend that everything is okay.
Remember, the loss of a grandparent is an important loss to you too as you lose a parent. You will have a great deal to deal with including financial, funeral and family issues. Your children will take their lead from your actions so make sure you take time to care for yourself, as well as everyone else.
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