My first thought when I heard the news that my mother had terminal cancer was, “How can I prepare my daughter for this?”
She was 2½ years old and adored her Nan-nan. I headed to a children’s book store to find some books to read that would help prepare her… and me… for a period of grieving.
Children process death differently from adults. Very young children, under 6 years old, have no understanding of the permanence of death.
They tend to take things in stride more than you might expect. It is good to be open with them about what will happen and answer their questions without going into too much detail.
You will need to filter some things, but be honest about your own emotions and how you miss your loved one.
It’s okay to shed tears and to say, “I am sad because I miss Grandma.” It is very helpful to share stories and happy memories of the deceased.
“My daughter wanted to come to the visitation to say goodbye, since she hadn’t seen her grandmother in a few months.
As we stood by the coffin, I could tell she was about to reach over to touch her old friend.
I told her, “Nan-nan’s skin will be very cold when you touch it, because she isn’t alive anymore.”
I watched as she regarded the woman in front of her curiously. “She’s not talking!” she said. “No, but she is listening. You can tell her anything you want her to know.”
There was an emotional silence for a moment (for me…my daughter was fine!) With a wave of her hand and a smile, she said, “Bye-bye, Nan-nan!” and skipped down to look at pictures of happier days.”
Keep normal routines and structure as much as possible. Remember, children appreciate rituals, so take advantage of the passing of a birthday to make a cake to celebrate your loved one’s life.
These rituals build connection with the past and help the healing process.
“Many months after my mother’s death, my daughter cried mightily for her one night at bedtime.
Her younger sister followed her lead. Pretty soon, we were all crying, and all we could do was sit together and be sad.
I wanted to fix it. I wanted it to stop. I wanted my girls to be happy. But by the grace of God, I was only able to do what they needed: be there for them.”
Info: St. Joseph Hospice Bereavement Services, 276-5344