Helping Kids Deal with Death

 

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?” - Winnie the Pooh

 Gram with her 90th Birthday Certificate from the Govenor

Gram with her 90th Birthday Certificate from the Govenor

Throughout our lives, many of us experience the death of a loved one. As a parent, the hardest part of that loss can be explaining it to young children. Every family has different beliefs that may play into how they approach the conversation. This post will give a few ideas that worked for my family as we recently faced the death of my grandma. This was especially difficult because we were blessed to see her on a regular basis and she was a regular fixture in my kids’ lives.

 My family with Gram at Christmas 2017

My family with Gram at Christmas 2017

My Gram was 90 years old. She had 14 children, 40 grandchildren, and 54 (and counting) great-grandchildren. With a family that large, it would have been easy to get lost in the crowd and to not have a strong relationship with her, but Gram was a woman like no other and most of the time, when I would go visit, she would greet me and my kids by name. She had a way of making you feel like you were the only one in her world and your kids were the first great-grandkids in her life. She was an amazing woman who taught me so much about life, and I am so proud to have called her my Gram.

For the past three years, Gram lived in a nursing home and my kids and I went to see her as often as we were able. Though it often felt like we spent just as much (if not more) time with the “tweet-tweets and fishes” in the common area, my kids loved to see Gram. They especially loved to collect whatever treasures she had won at BINGO recently or enjoy whatever snacks she had hidden in her drawers.

 Holding Gram's Hand after my siblings and I painted her fingernails

Holding Gram's Hand after my siblings and I painted her fingernails

When she became sick in late February, we knew this time was different and that she may not pull through. As a Christian family, we added extra prayers for Great-Gram at night and began talking about her going to live in Heaven with Great-Grandpa. We started the conversation lightly and were able to make it a part of our daily conversations for a while. When Gram showed a sudden spurt of life while in the hospital, I took the kids to see her. Oliver was so excited to color her a picture. She told them she loved them and squeezed their hand one last time. That is a memory I will treasure forever. As Gram became sicker, we talked more about her going to Heaven and what that meant to us. We tried to explain that even though we would not be able to go see her anymore, she would always be with us.

 Gram with Oliver on Christmas 2014

Gram with Oliver on Christmas 2014

I was blessed to have been with my Gram when she passed and had the opportunity to see the amazing sunset that welcomed her Home. When I returned home that evening, I sat down with Oliver and explained to him that Great-Gram had gone Home to Heaven that evening. We read the book, Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola, and I asked if he had any questions. He asked me when Great-Gram was going to come back from Heaven, and I told him that she would not be coming back. Instead, I explained we would see her someday in Heaven.

 Gram with Morgan Fall 2016

Gram with Morgan Fall 2016

The next day, we started to create our Great-Grandma Box. In our box, we wrote some of our favorite memories of Great-Gram - going to see the tweet-tweets and fishes, playing BINGO with her, treats in her desk drawer, etc. We also went to the Dollar Store to purchase beads to share with our family at the funeral because Gram’s favorite BINGO prize was bead necklaces.

On the day of the funeral, we talked about what we would see and do there. We decided to see how the day went when deciding whether to take Oliver to view the body. When we arrived, he asked where Gram was, so we talked about how her body was at the funeral home, but her spirit was in Heaven, and we took Oliver to see her body. As a family, we said our farewells to her, and then we went back to visit with family. We made the decision not to bring the kids to the funeral service as we thought it would be too much for them.

In the days following the funeral, Oliver continued to ask about Great-Gram, so we talk about her and look at our Great-Gram Box. We have read Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs over and over again, as well as Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories. We have let Oliver lead all the conversations and ask questions. We have talked about how Great-Gram is buried in the cemetery near where we live and how we can go visit her whenever we would like. We also talk to her during prayers and tell her how much we love and miss her.

I do not claim to be an expert on grieving children or adults. I really struggled in the days leading up to my Gram’s death on how I would explain it all to my kids. The best advice I can give is to listen to your kids and let them lead the conversation. Grief is a tough subject for many, and the more we can support our kids, the better they will learn to understand and work through it.

In Loving Memory of my Gram, Lorraine Resch - August 29, 1927 - March 7, 2018 - “A Grandma is love that you never outgrow.” - Unknown

 

A few books on children and grief