It’s not something any one wants to deal with but death and dying are natural parts of life. Whether it be a pet, someone in your community, or even closer to home eventually our kids will have to face the concept of death, and it’s an issue not many parents are equipped to handle. Recently our family had to say goodbye to a family member- here’s how we helped the kids cope.
Please note; I am not a councillor, I have no training or professional knowledge in this area- only my own experiences and what I’ve learned through research and advice. I strongly advise you to seek support if you or your family aren’t coping with grief. GriefLine is one resource you can access online or via telephone.
Recently my husband’s Pop passed away from cancer. We are a close family and the kids had a good relationship with their Great Pop. We had a few months of lead in time, to prepare the kids for his passing. We knew Great Pop wasn’t well and that it was highly likely that he wouldn’t be with us for much longer so we made a big effort to get the kids ready to deal with what that would mean.
One of the main things we did was sit the kids down and have a chat, we told them Great Pop was very sick and then we invited the kids to ask questions, I think we asked “do you have any questions you’d like to ask about this?” The kids asked several questions, which we made a point of answering honestly. We kept our answers short and we only answered their questions- we didn’t give extra details.
We are lucky- our boys are pragmatic and already understand that death is a part of life. They have lived on a farm since birth, so death wasn’t a new thing to them.
Still, saying goodbye to Great Pop was hard for them. We visited a lot. My husband and I agreed that we would give them the chance to see Great Pop, but there would be no pressure, and we made sure that Great Pop was well enough to see them. As we drove over to Great Pops house we discussed the fact that he would probably look different to normal, and we would need to be careful of any wires or tubes he had around him. We had coffee with Nanna and hubby spent some time in Great Pop’s room before coming out and inviting the kids to say hello. One of the boys was very hesitant, and we made it clear there was no pressure to come in, though he did eventually come in and give Great Pop a cuddle. After we left, we again invited the boys to ask any questions they had. We made the decision that if Great Pop got any worse we wouldn’t take the boys to see him unless they or he asked- I really wanted them to think of him at his best, not his worst.
Great Pop eventually passed away peacefully one night. We sat the boys down and talked to them. We cried, and talked about the fact it’s okay to be sad, and it’s definitely okay to cry. One of the boys really struggled for a while. He would often come up and say he missed Great Pop, or have a little cry and say he was feeling sad.
We also made the decision not to take the boys to the funeral. I really struggle at funerals, I am always a mess and I didn’t want the boys to see me like that. I also wanted to give everyone a chance to grieve without censoring themselves because they were worried about upsetting our kids (plus one of our kids is so pragmatic and frank I shudder to think what he might have said at the grave site).
We still talk to the kids when they ask questions. We wave and say ‘hello’ to Great Pop when we pass his grave site each week. One of the boys has asked to go and visit so we will take some wheat stalks (Great Pop was a farmer) to put on his grave.
Grief isn’t easy, and I’m no expert. I hope if you are reading this to figure out how to help your children in a tough time that this helps in some small way.