Sharing Grief with Children

May 4, 2014, Parenting Success Network

My grandfather died last Saturday. He was 95 years old, and lived a long full life. I actually feel like I lost him a while ago as he gradually slipped away into the abyss of dementia. He has been under hospice care for about 5 months. While his passing was not shocking it still hurts to loose a family member. While I had come to understand the passing of my grandfather’s personality, memory and understanding as I knew it, I selfishly did not want to say goodbye to his physical presence in my life.

When my mother called to tell me about my grandfather’s passing, my 12-year-old daughter was in the room. She witnessed my initial reaction and immediately understood the finality of death and the impact that it had on me in the moment. She passed the news on to her 10 and 7-year-old siblings who understood that I was sad and had varying degrees of sadness themselves.

As we prepared to go home and celebrate my Granddad’s life with my extended family, my mother asked me if I was going to bring the kids. My answer, without hesitation, was of course I am. I wondered silently why she asked me that. I even had a momentary hesitation about my decision. Are they too young? Will they understand? Will they be uncomfortable? Afraid? Anxious? After all, this would be their first funeral.

I didn’t need to think long before I concluded that all three of my children NEED to be with us for this family event. Sharing my grief with my children through sensitive and thoughtful reflection and open discussion will help them understand how grief can look and feel and it begins to normalize the grieving process for them. Each of them will come to their own understanding as appropriate for their developmental level and individual temperament. Families celebrate weddings and births together. Nobody questions the presence of children when we are together in happiness and joy. So I decided that my family’s sadness should be validated and experienced by my children in the same way. My children need to see how families come together and support each other in times of sadness as well as times of joy.

The funeral was this afternoon and the kids had an emotional day of bonding and connection with family both new-to-them and familiar. They cried with us, laughed with us, and asked us a lot of questions. Their presence was both appropriate and appreciated by all in attendance. It was a beautifully intimate ceremony on a warm and sunny day. Granddad must have been looking down on his entire family, including his great grandchildren, feeling both proud and happy. I’m sure of it.

This post is dedicated to my Granddad, who I know will dance with the angels forever. I love and miss you Granddad.