Good Grief – a Mothers guide to helping children when a grandparent dies

 

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I know this topic is far away from my norm, but, in my circle of friends we are all heading to that age where our parents are getting a bit older and contemplating life without them is becoming a reality.  Devastatingly, my beloved Dad passed away 2 years ago, it was unexpected as he hadn’t been sick for very long and then, after dedicating his life to healing others, nothing could be done for him.  We were robbed of a great man, a devoted husband, a wonderful father and a dedicated and adored Poppa.  Sadly, recently, a few other friends parents have passed away and as parents it’s hard to know what to do to help your children when you are grieving yourself and trying hard to be strong for them.  I was in shock at the time my Dad passed away and had to blindly feel my way through how to handle things with the girls but now with the benefit of some experience, hindsight and chats with friends I thought that writing a post with some general tips & anecdotes may help others if they are faced with this sad situation.

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Now this is all caveated with the fact that I am not a psychologist so this is not professional advice. There are some links at the bottom to some more professional articles if you want to read those. Hopefully you won’t be needing this anytime soon!

  • There is no right or wrong way to feel and everybody handles death and grief differently.
  • Children don’t have the same coping strategies as adults or the support networks around them, they have you.  Unless a child has experienced it themselves they will have no real concept of death,  so their friends can’t offer the same support as adults can.
  • Depending on the age of your children and your circumstances being able to say goodbye to the grandparent could be really helpful (before they have passed away, that is). Explaining that they may look different or may not be able to talk but they can still feel and hear them say I love you is important for all.
  • Being involved in the funeral in some shape or form may help them understand that this is the final goodbye.  Explaining to them beforehand what to expect is important I think. For my Dad, all the grandchildren were 6 and under so still really little but they all did a drawing or card and walked them down the ailse and put it next to a photo of Dad.  Miss E did get upset at the service though when people were having a giggle at a story being told about Dad, she couldn’t understand how people could be laughing at such a time.

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  • Young children may expect the grandparent to reappear soon and older children may suddenly fear for your or their own mortality.  My youngest was just 4 at the time Dad died and kept asking “If Cheezus came back after 3 days why can’t Poppa”?  Good question (that I didn’t have the answer to at the time & still don’t).  My then 6 year old was devastated at losing Poppa, was so sad for Granny and then became fearful that I might die too or that she would, that took a while to work through.  Another friends 4 year old cried uncontrollably when there were no clouds in the sky one day having been told that Grandpa was up in heaven.  When the clouds were gone she thought so had heaven and therefore Grandpa.  Understanding that their fears are real and listening to them, even if it’s over and over again is important and trying to give them as much reassurance as possible.

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  • Letting them know it’s ok to cry and that everyone in the family is also sad.  They might get scared when they see Mummy & Daddy cry as it doesn’t happen often so explaining what you are feeling helps them overcome this fear and shows them that it’s ok to be sad.  Miss E was so brave but so sad and got upset when M would be laughing at something or that life went on at school and nobody knew how sad she was inside.  She wanted to scream out “don’t you know we’ve lost someone so very special”, actually so did I and so we talked about how we were both feeling the same thing, while it didn’t change anything it helped her knowing that I was feeling the same.

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  • Lots of people talk about the spirit of the loved one still being all around us, I believe this but it’s a very hard concept to understand for little people.  I just said that whenever we think of Poppa he is near us, watching over us, that he adored us and wants us to be happy.  Mine wanted physical evidence of this so whenever a butterfly comes past we stop for a moment and think of Poppa that he’s just flying by to check on us.  You do need to think these things through though in terms of posibilites of where their minds can go with it.  On a recent holiday we walked through some bush where about 1000 blue butterflies must have just hatched – I had to explain that one as Poppa had obviously spread the word about Magnetic Island and lots of other spirits wanted to to go on holiday to check it out too!

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  • Having something special of their grandparents to keep, mine have a T-shirt each of Dad’s that they picked out with Mum and have them tucked under their pillows.
  • Explain that “grief” is what they are feeling when they are sad and also sometimes when they get a little bit mad. It’s also what Mummy & Daddy are feeling if they get a bit sad or mad too.
  • In time, perhaps suggest they think about how they think their grandparent would want them to feel, to be happy, to laugh, to play, to learn, to remember the good times …

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  • There are quite a few books available for children on this topic and they also can be very helpful for your child to read or for you to read them together. This post by Children’s Books Daily has a wonderful list of books dedicated to grief and feelings.  Sometimes books have the words when you just can’t.

As I said I’m not an expert on this and am not a psychologist so if you do think that either you or your child need some help in dealing with grief please do go and see your GP or talk to an expert.

Here are some links to some more expert advice:

This post is answering the questions about children attending funerals

The Australian Centre for Grief & Bereavement have a summary for supporting grieving children

Kids Matter have a number of PDF’s regarding loss and grief for children

Net Mums have a post of grief from a childs perspective and how to help prepare a child for a loss

Do you have any tips to share?

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36 comments on “Good Grief – a Mothers guide to helping children when a grandparent dies

  1. ilana
    May 26, 2015 at 8:30 am

    as you know V we just lost my girls beloved Pa. Thank you for such an honest and very helpful post. I remember a lot of your girls stories and the innocence in them still sits with me. We are still grieving and I can still see many obstacles ahead but you have def given me some tools to help. Thanks x

    • Vicki
      May 26, 2015 at 2:32 pm

      Love you Lans x

  2. Karin @ Calm to Conniption
    May 26, 2015 at 9:05 am

    I can’t even imagine this moment and I don’t want to but your tips were excellent. Those poor little minds having to take it all in. I still remember my Grandad’s funeral and I was about 6 maybe. I remember that overwhelm and being carried by my Dad with my ear squashed to his shoulder to muffle everyone. Must stop, now I am all teary.

    • Vicki
      May 26, 2015 at 2:34 pm

      Oh I didn’t want to make you teary. I hope that this moment is in the very distant future for you. x

  3. We almost lost my Mum last year (a year ago on Thursday actually) in a bad work accident and it was very traumatic for all of us. You just never know when it can happen. I can’t even bear to think about losing my Mum, and the thought of the girls having to deal with losing their grandmother kills me. Punky was 2 and a half when Mum had her accident last year and being a very sensitive, emotional child it was very hard on her, especially as at that young age she really didn’t understand what was going on and I know the hospital and seeing Mum the way she was scared her. For months afterward all of her play centered around hurt toys with broken backs and legs (my Mum’s main injuries) and thankfully the childcare where she went were really good in working with that aspect and helping her play through it. I was an emotional wreck myself and if it wasn’t for my husband I don’t know how Punky and I would have got through it.

    I really appreciate this post and I am going to be bookmarking it because I think you have some really handy tips here.
    #teamIBOT

    • Vicki
      May 26, 2015 at 2:32 pm

      Oh your poor Mum that sounds terrible and I really feel for you & Punky too. I hope that you have many good years with your Mum and that you won’t be needing these tips anytime soon. Dealing with that accident sounds traumatic enough for the time being.

  4. Malinda @mybrownpaperpackages
    May 26, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    I will have to keep your advice on hand for when I need to talk to my children about this, I’m sure it is coming but I just dont want to think about it just yet.

    • Vicki
      May 26, 2015 at 2:35 pm

      No, no need to think about it until it happens it’s just too hard. x

  5. Amy @ HandbagMafia
    May 26, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    When Mum died, our kids were 6, 5 and 4. It was rough on them. My husband really supported them and made sure they were okay- I wasn’t really able to do much, myself. My best advice is to look after yourself- so that you can look after them. Sorry to hear you lost your dad xxx

    • Vicki
      May 26, 2015 at 10:04 pm

      Thank you Amy and I’m so sorry that you have lost your Mum. That is good advice too, it’s such a difficult time. x

  6. Sonia Life Love Hiccups
    May 26, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    One of my girlfriends lost her mum on Sunday and she is struggling with dealing with her own grief as well as her kids so this is perfect timing for this post hun. I will send her the link. Thank you xx

    • Vicki
      May 26, 2015 at 10:08 pm

      Oh I’m so sorry to hear that. I hope that she might find something helpful in the post. x

  7. Lauren @ The Thud
    May 26, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    What fantastic advice Vicki. I lost my cousin last week. It was a huge shock to the whole family because she was only 33 and so fit and healthy. The funeral was awful, but it was especially sad watching her little nieces and nephews who were missing their aunty so much. I couldn’t imagine how hard it was for my other cousins to explain to their kids what had happened. It’s just so much for little minds to understand. I really hope I don’t need to refer back to this for a long time….

    I love the t-shirts under the pillow by the way. That’s really special xxxx

    • Vicki
      May 26, 2015 at 10:10 pm

      Oh Lauren that’s terrible, I’m so sorry for your loss, that’s a real tragedy. Yes I hope that you don’t need to refer back either. x

  8. Hugzilla
    May 26, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    This is a really lovely post. I have no tips to offer because – thankfully – I’ve yet to have this conversation with my five year old and hope not to for a very long time. Great advice though!

    • Vicki
      May 26, 2015 at 10:12 pm

      Thank you. I hope it’s a long long time away for you. x

  9. Sammie @ The Annoyed Thyroid
    May 26, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    I love that your girls have poppa’s T-shirts under the pillows. I think you nailed it when you said that there’s no right way to grieve and that it’s different for everyone – but there’s so many top tips here, I think there’s something everyone can draw some comfort from x

    • Vicki
      May 26, 2015 at 10:15 pm

      Thanks Sammie. x

  10. Sasha @ From the Left Field
    May 26, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    Some brilliant tips here lady! I’m so sorry for your loss, and you’re right- it’s really hard to grasp as an adult, and then having to support children through it as well can be really tough. Making a memory book can be great for kids too- having them stick photos in, draw and write about all the wonderful memories they had with a loved one, and turning it into a positive book that they can reflect on later. It can be lovey for the whole family to get involved. xx

    • Vicki
      May 26, 2015 at 10:19 pm

      Thanks Sasha. A memory book is a great idea and a lovely thing to do xx

  11. Ellen
    May 26, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    What a lovely topic to write about Vicki, if you know what I mean? I often reflect on the fact that as ‘older’ parents hubby and my kids won’t have their grandparents around for as long as I did and they may in fact not remember them much at all as they get older given that hubby’s parents are already in their 80s and my little people are only 6 and 3. I’ve never really thought about how we will navigate the inevitable though. You’ve given me some great ideas. Thank you. x

    • Vicki
      May 26, 2015 at 10:32 pm

      Thanks Ellen. Hopefully there’s still a good few years yet, my Granny is still with us at 97! I don’t think it is something that we give thought too until we have to, it’s unchartered waters. x

  12. Jen
    May 27, 2015 at 12:03 am

    These are all really great suggestions. I know that it is very difficult for the littles to understand the finality of death, and I know that as a child, funerals were very traumatic experiences for me – I remember an aunt forcing me to go up to my grandfather’s open casket to give him a kiss goodbye and it scared the heck out of me….& I think that’s an important point: let the children lead the way. If they ask, answer. If they ant to participate, let them. But don’t force them.

    • Vicki
      May 27, 2015 at 9:18 am

      Thanks Jen, that’s so right – let the child lead they way. It’s a traumatic time that doesn’t need to made even more so.

  13. Lucy @ Bake Play Smile
    May 27, 2015 at 7:11 am

    This is all great advice. It’s so hard when someone close to you dies, especially trying to explain that to little ones too. So sorry to hear about your Dad. xx

    • Vicki
      May 27, 2015 at 9:18 am

      Thanks Lucy.x

  14. Shauna 'Round the Corner
    May 27, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Thank you for this. It is something about which I have given very little thought. I was fortunate that all but one of my grandparents passed away when I was an adult. The one who died when I was about 8 was abroad and only my Dad was able to fly OS to attend the funeral. But I do have a vivid memory of seeing my Dad cry. The only time I ever did. Kids remember. So it is indeed very important that it is handled sensitively and I think you have done a beautiful job of sharing some great advice. I hope I won’t need it any time soon but I know where to find you! 🙂

    • Vicki
      May 27, 2015 at 4:01 pm

      Thanks Shauna. I know that I hadn’t thought about it at all until I had to, it’s not something that you do want to think about really!

  15. Allison Tait
    May 30, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    Great post. This has been top of mind for me lately, so this was very helpful.

    • Vicki
      May 31, 2015 at 3:12 pm

      I hope everything is ok? Glad to be of help. Take care.

  16. Shannon@ mytwomorrows
    May 31, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    Thank you for shring this Vicki. Some great tips and an important thing to talk about. We had to deal with this last year when my husbands brother died suddenly at age 42, then a month later my his best friend died suddenly at 41. Crappy time and tricky to explain to the kiddies when they both died so young. We still get lots of questions as they both deal with it in their own way. Miss 5 has re-named her soft toy from ‘spot’ to ‘scott’ after her uncle and cuddles him at bedtime which is sweet. I love that your girls have their Poppas t shirts. Love and hugs to you lovely. Xx

    • Vicki
      May 31, 2015 at 8:36 pm

      Oh Shannon that’s terrible. I’m so sorry for you losses, so tragic. Such hard lessons to learn x

  17. Maxabella
    June 3, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    I am one of those silly people who tries not to ever, ever, ever think of people dying. I can’t help it. I just can’t make myself go there. I will pin this post to my ‘instructions’ board for when I need to read it in future. x

    PS – And now I’m concerned that this topic has been top of mind for my sister… ^^^

    • Vicki
      June 3, 2015 at 2:01 pm

      I hope you won’t be need this for a very long time. Is A your sister?

  18. Shari Coppinger
    January 11, 2017 at 1:45 am

    My Grandmom passed several years ago when my daughter was 7 yrs old. Other than my daughter, she was my go to when I needed a hug. I sometimes miss her now as I did then. When I found myself feeling that way a few months ago I called my daughter and we talked a while about Gram. Then my daughter, Jen said something to me that I had only heard from my Gram when she had been comforting me.

    ” Don’t worry, it’ll be just a memory when you let it go and kiss it up to GOD.” Jen wasn’t talking about our memory of Gram but the thing that had made so sad.” I used to use the phrase ” Kii it up to God” and still do at times, but I’ve never used the whole sentence that Gram always said to me. That sort of kept it mine. I don’t think it was ever said in front of Jen as I would not have been letting her see me however upset
    I was or talk ‘grownup’ in front of her.
    I asked her just a few minutes ago over the phone about it after having read each of your stories. Gram had been quite sick before her passing so I had a number of talks with Jen on the way home from the hospital so that she wouldn’t be surprised when it was finally the end. After Gram died I decided we should write a note to Gram and while the the casket was still open I tucked the notes into her hand. I had snuck a look at jen’s note before I had put it with Gram. Don’t worry Gram we will always kiss it up to GOD and ask him to please give you the kisses so you won’t have to worry.”

    • Vicki
      January 30, 2017 at 9:26 pm

      What a lovely thing to do, “Kiss it up to God” I like that very much. Thank you for sharing a little bit of your story too. x

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