I know this is a heavy topic this week. Early Sunday morning my husband’s grandma passed away. She was 97 and lived a long, full, wonderful life. Despite all that, it is still sad to have her gone.
In light of her passing and the events to come, a relative wrote in: “How can I help my children cope with death of a loved one? I’m especially concerned about the viewing.”
Death can be a really hard thing for kids to understand and deal with.
As I thought about this, my mind went back to the first death I dealt with. Here is the journal entry my 9-year-old self wrote:
“8-8-95 My Great grandma died. My hamster died the same day it was a hard day. I was rilly sad. And I’m still sad. I went to her funaral it was my first funaral. She died a few days before her Birthday. She died 8-2-95.”
Here I am 16 years later and I still feel a lot of those same things now. Having someone die who is close to us is sad and I don’t think that will ever change. Here are some good ways to help young children work through that grief and find comfort, hope, and peace:
Listen. It is healthy for kids to talk about what they are thinking and feeling. This also helps them identify what is bothering them the most. Sometimes, as adults we get tired of them asking questions or talking about it so much. But try to be patient and let them talk. They may start to worry that they could die, or one of their parents (not just an old person) might die. On the other hand, some children will not want to talk about it, but need to be encouraged to do so.
Let them cry and grieve. This seems to be the most painful part: the many tears and the heartache. Yet this is part of the process to healing and accepting. Convey that to your child! It is natural and healthy to feel sad. The length of time a child/person needs to grieve is different for every individual. Bear in mind that it may not go completely away. I still feel sadness for those I have lost even thought many years have past. The good news is that as time passes the hurt lessens.
Tell happy memories. When my maternal grandmother passed away about 5 years ago we had a ‘memory sharing’ at the gravesite. I remember how nice it was to share my happy memories about her and hear memories other had as well.
Talk about the afterlife/religion. I have always found a great amount of peace knowing that I will see my loved ones after this life. Also remember that lots of questions will likely arise. Be open and honest as you answer questions your kids have. My knowledge has always been an incredible anchor during these hard times. This little video is a good way to show kids about our bodies and spirits.
Write in a journal. If your child already has a journal they could write their feelings and memories there. If they don’t yet own a journal it could be a good opportunity to start one. It could also be special if you put together a ‘remembering journal’ as a family. Each family member could write a few memories, you could glue in pictures, and record the feelings each person has.
Give them choices about the funeral/viewing. It is beneficial to be open and give your children some choices. If they have never been to a funeral or viewing, explain what will take place. Let them know that at a viewing the body may look different than they remember. Let them know that if at any time during the viewing or funeral they feel uncomfortable they can sit really close to you, take a little break (go into the hallway or step outside for a couple minutes), close their eyes, or take a bathroom break.
Remember that although there is no way to completely erase all the heartache that accompanies death, talking, crying, journaling and retelling happy memories can help children work through the grieving process