As a parent, I want to protect my children, but there are certain things that I cannot shield them from. Death is one of those things. When my uncle passed away in 2004, my kids were six, four and two. They were too young to understand or process what had happened. My grandmother passed away in April 2010 and now my kids are 13, 11 and nine. Helping them deal with her death has been a new experience, and this is what I have learned.
Talk Honestly With Your Children
The best thing I could do to help my children deal with a death in the family is to be honest with them. No, they don't need to know every ugly detail of what has happened, but they deserve to know the truth. I would never tell my children that Grandma "simply went to sleep."
My 13-year-old son was with me in the room when my grandmother passed away. It was his choice and while I still wonder if I should have made him leave, I did not want to force him. I was 10 years old when my grandfather passed away. He was in the hospital before his death and I was never allowed to see him due to hospital visitation rules (no one under 12 allowed to visit patients). I have always regretted that I was never able to see him.
When my grandmother passed away, my son watched as her labored breathing slowed then stopped altogether. Had I known she was so close to death, I might have not allowed him to go to her deathbed with me. When I explained to him beforehand that she was dying and this wasn't a regular visit, he told me he felt he needed to go with me.
Children need to understand truthfully that death means the person is no longer with us. Obviously, personal beliefs about an afterlife come into play with this, and the child's age will help determine how much to tell a child. Details don't have to be extensive.
Because of my Christian faith, I believe in an afterlife and that my grandmother went to Heaven. I have talked to my children about this and I believe in giving them plenty of opportunity to ask questions and express their own thoughts.
Attending Funerals and Wakes
Growing up, my parents went to funerals of every person they ever knew, so I grew up attending wakes and funerals. It was just a way of life for me even though I hated going. Today it seems as though we try to shield kids from the unpleasant things in life, like death. Taking your children to funerals and wakes can help them understand the concept of paying respect when someone dies.
On Memorial Day and other holidays, my three kids and I go with my mother and grandmother to local cemeteries to place lowers on the graves of family members. Some of these family members passed on long before I was born but I have come to understand - and try to help my kids understand - that paying respect in this way helps show that their lives mattered and they are remembered.
Sharing Memories of the Deceased
When someone they know passes away, kids may have trouble expressing their feelings. I found that one way to help my own kids when my grandmother passed away was to share photos and memories of her. Showing them photos and talking about how I remembered her when I was a little girl helped them to express their feelings of sadness over her death. We were able to laugh together at funny stories I remembered and they had the chance to ask me more about her.
Using Art to Deal With Grief
Art can help kids work through their feelings. Let your kids express their emotions, their sadness, confusion and maybe even hopes and fears through drawing. Ask them if they would like to draw a picture of the deceased person or perhaps draw their favorite memory of them.
Sometimes, the best thing to make a child feel better is simply a hug from someone who loves them. Show them lots of affection and love as they work through their own grief and make sure they understand that you are there for them.