Children and Grief

I am so sorry I haven’t written in a while.

Like most of you, school is ending and every activity has its ending ceremonies and parties.

Two weeks ago, in the midst of all the celebrations my father passed away after battling Alzheimer’s. Even though I know in my heart, it was for the best it still hurts. My emotions have been a roller coaster. One minute I’m on top enjoying my day, and then my heart stops and the sadness is an out of control free fall.

At almost 50, I’ve experienced dealing with death; a beloved aunt and grandmother, a friend, and some colleagues. However, I didn’t have two inquisitive children who would have questions about death. How was I going to answer their questions, when I had so many questions myself?

I knew that my 14 and 6 year old would understand the death of my father differently. Claire, my 14 year old obviously knew my father longer. They shared meals, vacations, and special events before my dad got sick. Julia, my 6 year old was about four when my when dad started needing reminders who we all were. Julia didn’t realize what was happening and thought my dad was just being funny.

As with anything I don’t know how to do, I Googled this sensitive topic and found some good advice. Having a template to guide this discussion, I felt that I created a safe environment to discuss this topic. Below are some ways to talk to your child when there is a death of a loved one.

When talking about death, use simple, clear words.  To break this sad news about my dad, I sat in the middle of them, held their hands and was simple and direct.  For example, “I have some sad news to tell you. Grandpa died today.”  Then I waited for their response.

Listen and comfort. Every child reacts differently to learning that a loved one has died. In my case, Julia smiled and gave me a hug. Claire, sat there stoic, as tears filled her eyes. I gave Claire a hug, and we sat together for a few minutes. Julia asked a few questions, and  I tried to answer the best that I could.

Put emotions into words. Encourage your child to express their thoughts and feeling. I talked about my own feelings and told my girls that I was sad. This shows them that it is okay to talk about their feelings. This is ongoing and every so often talk about their loved one. Just in these last couple of weeks I’ve been bringing up memories and telling the girls that I missed my dad.

Talk about funerals and rituals. Allow children to participate in whatever rituals you may have for honoring your loved one. The girls did come to the wake for a little while and attended the funeral. My sister and I acknowledged the girls and my nephew in the eulogy, and Claire did a reading.

Help your child remember the person. I talk about my father every so often when it is appropriate. I tell them little stories and recall favorite memories. We have pictures of my dad around the house. Recalling and sharing happy memories helps heal grief and activate positive feelings.

Consult professional help if needed. If your child is having an extremely difficult time and is exhibiting anxiety or anything that is hindering them from living their life, please see the help of a professional grief counselor.

I miss my dad but feel comforted that my daughters possess some of his best qualities. I look forward to sharing memories and stories with my girls to help myself with this process as I help them.

What are some ways you comfort your children about the death of a loved one?

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