Dealing with grief in kids is super tricky. My great grandfather passed away recently and it’s been difficult for the boys.
I thought I’d share how we are dealing with grief in kids in terms of everything from breaking the news to including them in traditions.
I need to first say that I am not a professional in any way shape or form. What I have is vivid memories of quite a few deaths and funerals. (I’m sure I’ve mentioned my creepy memory thing hey, how I have the painful ability to remember every little aspect of a traumatic experience, since about the age of five… It’s super annoying) Anyway this is a combination of what I needed back then, some common sense and some browsing through mental health articles.
“Mommy I miss TomTom, I wish he didn’t have to die, I wish he was back but like before he got so very old suddenly.
I miss the time before he needed a wheelchair, before he couldn’t talk like he used to or look after me like he used to. I miss him giving me money, watching cartoons with him and showing him things I made”
This is Aidan’s revelation last night. My grandfather died on Friday, on grandparents day at Aidan’s school, this meant that he had to sit out grandparents day and come home to news that his great grandfather had passed. In a matter of two months his great grandfather had “become really old” pancreatic cancer ravaged his body and he went from gardening, going for walks and reading the paper to the boys to needing help for the most basic things, like brushing his teeth.
Yesterday morning I had to leave the house early for an event. Usually my grandfather would look after Aidan in these moments, Aidan was about to protest and ask to be left with TomTom (a name he gave my grandfather when he was still learning to talk) in mid protest he realised there was no more TomTom to be left with and I realised that if I thought Aidan’s mourning his brother was tough, things were about to become tougher.
Dealing with grief in kids
Use clear simple language
I sat them down and tried to be as gentle as possible, maybe too gentle, I used something fluffy like, TomTom is no longer with us, his soul is with Jesus and the boys squished up their faces and asked… Are you trying to say he died. That might have been the way to go from the get go.
Remember that people grieve differently
The boys reacted differently, Caleb’s almond eyes filled with tears as I could see himself brace himself to be brave. He has been skulking around a little while Aidan wanted answers. Can we see him? what happens to his body? will he be with Logan and with daddy’s daddy? Did they make sure his eyes were closed? I’ve been hugging Caleb when he needs it and trying to explain things as best I can to Aidan. People deal differently and kids are people.
Don’t be afraid of emotions
We are blessed that Aidan has always been able to articulate his feelings very well. Much like his mom he spends alot of time psychoanalysing himself and will tell you…. When you do A you make me feel B and I’d like you to do C about it. I’ve been encouraging the boys to express their feelings by being open about mine, by reminding them that we are all sad (grown ups) and that sadness is a way of expressing love. I’ve also encouraged (and will continue to encourage) them talking about their feelings if they need to.
Be open about the way forward
The article that inspired this blog post said the following:
If the death of a loved one means changes inyour child’s life, head off any worries or fears by explaining what will happen. For example, “Aunt Sara will pick you up from school like Grandma used to.” Or, “I need to stay with Grandpa for a few days. That means you and Dad will be home taking care of each other. But I’ll talk to you every day, and I’ll be back on Sunday.”
Because TomTom lived with my parents next door I will be chatting to Aidan about his after school routine. Building blocks or colouring while TomTom “watched them” is no longer going to be the norm. I would no longer be able to leave him with TomTom when I run to the store (granted the sicker TomTom got over the last few weeks, this was already the case, we’d have a helper watch TomTom watch the boys). I’m crying as I type this. Remembering Aidan on Sunday afternoons with a blanket on my dad’s lazy boy telling my grandfather all the plot holes in whatever movie they were watching.
Talk about funerals and rituals.
All the death Aidan has “experienced” has been before his birth but affects his life. Like his brother and grandfather, he misses them without really knowing how it would have been to have them around. This time around he will see services and possibly the burial.
We will have alot of family descending apon us, alot of cheek pinching and unsolicited hugs and I will have to prepare my little loner for that.
I need to prepare him for seeing the adults in his life cry and for hearing the phrases, “I’m so sorry for your loss” and “my condolences” about a hundred times. I’ll need to train him to say “thank you” instead of something extremely Aidan like, like “why are you sorry, did you kill him”
– so as we head into a week of tears I will focus on the little ones because knowing my grandfather that’s always been where his focus was. Our relationship wasnt the best, I’m not about to lie and act like we were besties, I carried recentment, because I felt like he wasn’t there for my mom growing up (she had forgiven him years and years ago, I think I only completely forgave him when I saw my mom cry for him) But as a great grandfather I couldn’t fault him for a second Aidan, Caleb and Liam were his life and in his death I need to be there for them