It’s never an easy subject to bring up to anyone when someone that is dear to you passes away. On February 14, my husband got the devastating phone call informing us that his grandfather had just passed away. After we took a few moments to come to terms with what we had just found out, my attention turned our little boy. Not only did my husband lose his grandfather, but my son lost his great-grandfather, someone he loved to play the “drums” with. Whenever we went to visit our son would run in to his great-grandparents sitting room and he would stay in there for quite some time playing with his Papa copying the beat that he was banging on his foot stool. It was amazing how the moment my son walked in the room Papa would go from the quiet old man sitting in the corner, to being so full of life, and playing and laughing.
Our son is only just coming up on the 2.5 year old mark, so we really didn’t have to have that talk with him. Since Papa had been in the hospital since before Christmas, when Clark would go looking for him he would just walk away and do something else when he didn’t find him. He knew something was up that afternoon though when we spent a few hours with my in-laws while we all tried to wrap our heads around what had happened, and what to do next. Clark was extra cuddly with everyone that day, and extra silly doing everything he could to bring a smile to everyone’s faces.
He might not have known what exactly was wrong, but it got me to thinking about what I’ll do when the time comes and he does know. As many people do these days I ran to Dr. Google for the answer on how to deal with this sensitive topic. I got the same answer from many different sources.
Be honest with your kids. Depending on the age they may not fully grasp what you are telling them, but they’ll understand that it’s serious and important. For many young kids, life is black and white, they want the exact reasoning behind things. By the time kids have reach the age where they can go to school, they can understand what has happened. When you tell them of someone’s passing they’ll probably ask what happened, and it’s best to just tell them. Be prepared to just tell them that the persons body stopped working the way it’s supposed to, and make sure to explain that “dying” is the same thing as the body not working anymore.
Don’t get frustrated. Even though they understood what you told them, they might forget. Don’t get mad or upset that they forget, just gently remind them that the person they are looking for is gone and won’t be coming back.
Avoid euphemisms. Like I said earlier, kids take things literally. So saying someone “went to sleep”, has “gone away”, or that we “lost” them will just confuse them. With kids being so literal you don’t want them to become afraid of going to sleep, or having people go away where they will think they’ll never come back.
When older children (ages 5 or 6) start to ask questions like where the person is, be up front. This is also when you could choose to start discussing your own beliefs about the afterlife.
Some children (ages 6-10) will start wishing that someone did not die because they miss them, or they’ll start personifying death, they could say it’s the boogeyman, or a ghost, or a skeleton. Just remind them and explain again what it was that happened and that nothing could have prevented it.
Once they reach the teen years, they fully understand death and that it eventually happens no matter how are you try to prevent it. This could also get them to start questioning their own mortality. For example, if a friend of theirs dies in a car accident, they may be reluctant to get back in one themselves. Just sympathize with them and let them you know how upsetting it was, but this is also a good time to remind them of the best ways to keep safe. Teens also tend to feel guilt when a peer dies, they start to look for the real meaning of life. No matter what they are feeling and experiencing, just make sure they know that it is OK to share their grief, let them know they aren’t alone and that they don’t have to face the loss by themselves.
After explaining what has happened it becomes you and your child’s choice whether they will be there for a funeral or whatever way is chosen to remember that loved one. Just let them know that everyone is joining together to remember that person and it is helping everyone grieve and move to the next phase of their lives without that person.
Now that you’ve explained everything to your kids, make sure you take the time to deal with the loss on your own personal level. Just because you are always being strong for your kids doesn’t mean you can’t grieve in front of them. Being an adult doesn’t mean you have to cope on your own. You are never alone, if you need it ask for help, your friends and family are going through (or have been through) the same thing as you, when you need them, they’ll be there.