Q: My children, ages 12 and 14, had a very close relationship with my father, who recently passed away. How do I help them deal with their grandfather’s death?
A: Acknowledging the loss of grandparent is very important for a child and is sometimes overlooked in our society. The specifics of how you address this loss are related to the ages of the children involved. Not all children are at the same developmental level when it comes to understanding the complexities of death, however, all children do grieve when they suffer the loss of a close grandparent. Between the ages of 5 and 9, children begin to comprehend the finality of death.
During times of loss, children experience emotions that they cannot easily express in words. They need time, guidance, patience and support to be able to share their feelings. Sometimes looking at photos and other reminders together will help draw out more specific feelings. Take whatever time is needed to listen as your children share their stories and memories of their grandfather.
While it’s important for children to maintain their everyday routines in the wake of grief, there may be times when this is not in their best interest. Some days, they may just want to be at home with you instead of going to their regular activities. Be flexible and try to support them when they feel most vulnerable and perhaps need more comfort.
You will still have your own grief to manage while supporting your children. Give yourself permission to not know all the answers. Allow yourself and your children the freedom to navigate through the grief process in your own way.
Children often feel they must contain their own sad feelings for fear of triggering sadness in a grieving parent. Find ways to reassure them that your grief will not worsen because they are sharing their sadness. Let them know that when they share their feelings, it helps the whole family heal from the loss.