When a Grandparent Dies
A grandparent’s death is a heavy loss for a child. These two generations often share a special closeness—a pure-love relationship uncomplicated by the power and independence issues that cause friction between child and parent. A grandparent can be a safe and nurturing lap, an indulgent babysitter, a rapt audience, a wellspring of pride. Grandparents often have time and patience that parents might not have for telling stories, baking cookies, and teaching hobbies and crafts. They can connect a child with history and with his family story.
If your child saw his grandparent frequently and was very close, this loss can shake the foundations of his world. Not only has he lost a beloved companion, but this may be his first real encounter with death and the deep questions and feelings it evokes.
Speak the truth gently
Don’t try to spare your child’s feelings by withholding news of the death. This will only create unnecessary anxiety for her. Tell her plainly and simply that her grandparent has died, and that this makes you very sad. You don’t need to hide your tears or sorrow from your child. Crying in front of her lets her know that this is an acceptable way to handle the grief of losing someone close.
A last good-bye
Give your child the choice to attend the funeral and burial services. At the funeral your child will have the opportunity to give a loving good-by to his grandparent, whom he may not have seen much of during the final illness. He will learn that it’s healing to cry and to take comfort from others. He will see how many other people loved his grandparent; will hear them sharing their reminiscences.
Dealing with feelings
Whatever behavior your child typically shows when she’s under stress, expect this to intensify in the days and weeks following the death. The important thing is not how your individual child reacts but that she knows such reactions are okay. Let her know that it takes a while to feel better after someone you love dies, but that as time goes on, it won’t hurt so much. Meanwhile, encourage her to get feelings out into the open.
Memories bestow immortality. Your child’s grandparent lives on in the remembrances of the times they spent together, the special relationship they had. Encourage your child to talk about his grandparent.
As your own child bears the heavy burden of losing a grandparent, may he or she find comfort in cherished memories and grow stronger for having grieved well.
Excerpt from When a Grandparent Dies from One Caring Place