A bit of a somber topic today, but an important one: helping children deal with death.
Unfortunately, I’m experienced with this subject as Mike and I have each lost a parent in the last few years and are in the very real process of losing another one currently. To think that children don’t notice and just bounce back from the death of a loved one is a common myth that I’ve heard and it’s not true. Kids just manifest their grief differently, and it’s up to parents and loved ones to catch on and offer them comfort and hope during the process.
The boys were 5 and 7 when my Dad died, and they knew something was wrong as I was pretty non-functional for a while. It helped when I told them about my feelings; that I was very sad and missed my Dad. They needed to hear this because it helped normalize their own feelings. A lot of parents will pretend everything is OK when it’s not and so sharing feelings on a regular basis is very helpful to younger children, who are of an age to notice that all is not well. Sticking to our family routine was also very helpful, even if dinner was just toast, eating together as we usually do soothed everyone into a new normal.
The boys were 8 and 10 when Sam died, now this was a bit different as she suffered from cancer for months before she died and the kids saw her slowly degenerating. We did some research on the disease and gave the kids the most simple, accurate information so that they weren’t so scared. I was careful not to over-inform them, I would give them the most basic one line answers unless they asked for more info. It was also important for them to know that the cancer wasn’t contagious, as this was a fear for them.
Now, the boys are 10 and 12 and Dennis is dying of cancer, and has also moved into our home. It’s super important that the boys have all of the above – emotional truth, steady routine, clear medical answers based on their ages to cut the terror down, and also at their ages, they need privacy and a chance to do their own thing while Grandpa is sick and living with us.
Lastly, distraction is a great tool – planning a family weekend away or a fun event for the kids and having something to look forward to is very important. However, the distraction tool should be used sparingly, and only after the kids emotional and intellectual needs have been met.