This letter came in from a concerned Dad regarding how to help his daughter cope with the death of her Grandfather.
Do you have any suggestions on how to help children cope with an unexpected death of a grandparent? My father-in-law passed away 3 weeks ago. It was a sudden and unexpected heart-attack that took our family by surprise. My son (14) seems to be coping okay but my 9 year old daughter is having a much harder time. She has cried every day and seems very sad. She keeps saying that she cannot handle not being able to see him again. She is asking a lot of questions about being being buried and cremated. It seems to be occupying all her thoughts. Any ideas on how we can help her move past this? Do you think she needs counselling?
A concerned Dad,
Let me first say – sorry for your recent loss. It must be a painful time dealing with your own grief and trying to be there for your children who are grieving too and trying to make sense of the recents events. It is appropriate and normal to grieve, so I don’t think counselling would be needed unless your daughter was having trouble functioning ( ie – if the grief was keeping her from sleeping or going to school or attending her activities).
As a parent, its important to comfort our children and normalize how they are feeling. Explain that the tears are ok and the sadness is real. Share that you feel that way too and that you expect you too, will cry sometimes unexpectedly over the weeks and years to come as you remember and miss him. Share that others don’t cry and that doesn’t mean they are not as sad. Her brother’s grieving process can look and feel different than hers and that is fine. We should never pass judgement on how people grieve.
Answer her questions about cremation and burial procedures, but just enough to satisfy her curiosity without explicit or graphic details that may upset her more. Let her know she may have more questions in the weeks ahead and she can ask you anytime. Children often can’t absorb everything in one discussion. Invite the conversation to continue another time.
Many children have a worry that perhaps they or their parents may die suddenly and so it’s important to discuss the idea that while we can’t ever say for sure when we will die (accidents happen) – we live our lives being joyful and appreciative of the gifts of life all the while taking good care to respect our safety and health. Re-assure her she need not worry about death, but to treat the gift of life well herself.
Lastly, see if there is some action step she can make to express her love and loss of her grandpa. Some kids like to write a letter to heaven. Some write poems or donate to a charity. Some compile a scrapbook of memories. See if she would like to memorialize her grandpa some way.
I hope this is of some help. Bereaved Families of Ontario (or your own local chapter) may also be a great resource to you.