Gransnet forums

Ask a gran

How do you prepare a child for death of a grandparent?

(41 Posts)
aloha Thu 12-May-16 10:46:03

The 'other' granddad is very ill and the prognosis is not looking good. sad How do we help prepare my granddaughter for this? She's only 6 and sees him/them quite often. According to my daughter has never even asked the question about death/heaven etc.

Luckygirl Thu 12-May-16 11:00:17

There is a book by Julia Donaldson called the Paper Dolls; also one called Badger's Parting Gifts by Susan Varley. Both are directly and indirectly about death. Also try these links:-

My approach has always been to talk about life being a cycle and about love never going away, but becoming a part of those around you, which in turn becomes part of those around them - the idea of who you are and what you have contributed and how you have influenced others continuing for ever. We are sad not to see that person, but know that he or she is very much a part of who we are.

appygran Thu 12-May-16 11:27:18

Like that explanation Luckygirl

LullyDully Thu 12-May-16 12:39:28

There is also a lovely Mog book about her death. You will need to ask in Waterstones and see which book would suit her best. A little, very gentle preparation before he dies. Children can get over worried by death, especially at that age when imagination rules. Be subtle before his death. Then the photos and home made books can come into play to build her memories.

Tresco Thu 12-May-16 13:08:22

There's a book called Grandma's Bill, by Martin Waddell, about a grandmother talking to her grandson about her memories of her husband,

Making a memory box with special things in it could help. But don't expect her to understand too much. I was once asked by a nine-year old whose father had died five years earlier "How long are you dead for?"

Lillie Thu 12-May-16 13:22:23

Sorry to hear that.

I agree, it isn't really necessary to prepare the young child for her granddad's death other than to tell her that he is very ill. No one knows when someone will die with any certainty, and children have little conception of time anyway. she could spend unnecessary weeks worrying.

Children in Primary School often lose a grandparent and it isn't unusual for them to talk about it amongst themselves. The suggested books are a good idea after the event to put little minds at rest.

aloha Thu 12-May-16 13:57:58

Thank you. I will seek out those books and have them on standby. I do feel better having read this though, thank you. Grief is different with children I suppose.

Luckygirl Thu 12-May-16 14:45:16

They can be very matter-of-fact about it.

I remember when there were two deaths in quick succession and my two children (about 5 and 7) filled a room with upturned chairs and draped them with sheets. When I asked them what it was they said it was a "dying machine" and you go in one end and come out the other dead. I did a bit of a double take, but then thought that it was probably their way of making concrete something they could not understand.

I also remember when a kitten died and after a couple of days they said "Can we have a white one next time?" - which seemed a bit mercenary, but hey-ho.

willsmadnan Thu 12-May-16 14:59:52

After my husband died very suddenly in the New Year, my daughter, whilst coping with her own grief, was very aware that our 7 year old grandson might ask some questions to which there is no answer. The evening after he died there was a particularly bright star in the sky, so she drew his attention to it (he is very into astronomy ) and said 'Thats Grandad's star. Whenever you see it, you'll know he's here, looking down on us'. Image my surprise, or actually my momentary alarm , when I was staying with them at Easter, and he quite calmly announced ...'Grandad's back'. The star had of course appeared again in the small corner window that he and my daughter had first seen it. It gave us a bit of a turn, but he had remembered what his mum had said, and while it may seem mawkish, and totally without human logic, it reassures him for the time being. Obviously when he is an adult he will be able to ponder life, death and the million ways we imagine our mortality or immortality.

MargaretX Thu 12-May-16 15:26:17

The best thing is to talk about pets, especially rabbits who don't live so long. I think children accept death if the parents do. I have shown my GDs my jewellery box and told them some of it will be theirs when I am no longer with them and shown them the rings of their Gt grandmother who died aged 98.
They told me that on the day DHs mother died, their mother (DD2) took the photo album , lit a candle and sat with them on the sofa looking at photos and shed a few tears. I never knew about this and was quite moved. As for the pain of seperation, they will have to go through that on their own. We can't protect them from it.
In our family we don't go in for looking at stars etc. Its not true anyway so why tell them an untruth.

hildajenniJ Thu 12-May-16 16:46:36

When my own dearly loved grandfather died my youngest sister was terribly upset. I think what my father said to her was a wonderful way of describing why people have to die. He began by asking her to imagine an old house that nobody lived in any more. How it was broken, and leaky and couldn't be repaired. He asked her what she would do with it. Her answer was to demolish it and build a new one. This, he said, was like the death of my grandfather. He was old, worn out and so broken that he couldn't be mended, and so while he was gone, she was the new house being built for the future.
I haven't put this exactly as my Dad did, but you get the idea.

Marmight Thu 12-May-16 17:07:53

My GC's were all very young when DH died. We did the cloud thing with 2 of them. One day, when flying home from a visit to me, Nell, aged 4, was excited to be up in the clouds and yelled out 'Mummy, I can see Grandad!'. Everyone laughed (except a certain ex PM who was sitting in the row behind wink). No, the clouds and stars are not true, but neither are the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus, and it never hurt me or my children when we eventually found out the truth and it's better than going into detail about death and all that it entails.
Another GD who wasn't even born when Grandad died is intrigued by his absence and often announces to me 'Grandad's dead isn't he?' and then goes off to play, glad that we have had a little chat about it. She never asks any difficult-to-answer questions, just very matter of fact about the whole thing. Children are hardier than we think. I liken it to wrapping them up in coats and scarves when we are cold when they aren't necessarily feeling the same way.. I wouldn't get too worried about it, just go with the flow .....

NanKate Thu 12-May-16 18:13:25

MargaretX it is entirely up to you what you would do in these circumstances, but I would do anything to support and help a young child through a sad time and if it is by stars so be it. As they get older they can make up their own minds.

Many years ago my mum said that she often saw robins, more than usual, when someone had died. I have remembered this and often when I see a Robin it gives my a warm feeling about those I have lost. Other people often see feathers.

I am not saying any of this is true, but it helps some of the bereaved through a difficult time, what harm is there in that ?

Bellasnana Thu 12-May-16 18:43:21

Our granddaughter was four years old when my DH died last year. She knew he was very ill and would spend hours tucked in beside him with his arm around her. When he died she accepted that he was poorly and now his poorliness was over.

I had a cushion made for her out of one of his shirts which she still hugs and takes to bed with her every night. She has accepted that he has gone, but misses him a lot sad

Marmight Thu 12-May-16 18:51:43

That is so lovely Bella sad

willsmadnan Thu 12-May-16 18:59:29

Hmm... I can imaginè my 'best-beloved's ' response to being compared to a pet rabbit. It wouldn't be reprintable on Gsnet!
Life has a lot of crap to throw at one in the course of a life, so why not at least make it a little sweeter for the first few years ? Of course we know our dear ones aren't floating around on fluffy clouds, or twinkling in the night sky, but does it actually harm little minds to believe for a while? Surely better than the Victorian idea of purgatory, retribution and year-long mourning?
I don't have granddaughters to leave my meagre bits of 'bling' ....not that I imagine they'd even want them, but my grandson will inherit his grandpa's fishing rods, his hand-tied fishing flies, and his garden tools which will include his great grandfather's spade ..... somewhat like Trigger's broom (Only Fools and Horses???) No monetary value but packed with memories.These are the simple things that keep our loved ones with us even though we no longer see them.

Maggiemaybe Thu 12-May-16 19:54:43

Whatever helps a child make sense of their loss surely has to be good, and a kindness, whether true or not!

Bellasnana, your description of your DGD tucked in with your DH touched me deeply, as this was just how I was with my beloved grandda, who died when I was three. She'll always remember his love, and the cushion made from his shirt is just inspired flowers

Another helpful book for little ones is Debi Gliori's No Matter What. And yes, there are stars..."Look at the stars, how they shine and glow, but some of those stars died a long time ago. Still they shine in the evening skies. Love, like starlight, never dies."

durhamjen Thu 12-May-16 20:30:48

One of the songs played at my husband's funeral was "Blackbird". Every time we see a blackbird around the house my grandson asks if it's Grandad. His sister who is five years younger, gives him some very oldfashioned looks.

What we have told the younger grandchildren is that everybody is made of energy. When someone dies, all their energy goes into other things. Every living thing has energy, so Grandad could be part of a star, a blackbird, a tree, anything you want him to be.

whitewave Thu 12-May-16 20:35:47

sad and smile

Judthepud2 Thu 12-May-16 20:58:27

Bella what a lovely and comforting memorial that pillow is. Your post gave me a bit of a tear in my eye! flowers for you. You must miss him so much too.

durhamjen Thu 12-May-16 21:00:42

And we now get but Grandad couldn't be a blackbird because he was vegetarian.
We have also bought lots of Woodland Trust trees in Grandad's name, and a seat at Beamish, so they can always go somewhere to mention and remember Grandad.
Not that they would forget him, but it gives a focus for them.

Regalo Thu 12-May-16 21:50:58

I have done some work in the area of children and bereavement. It is important to be totally honest with them...they will take in as much as they are able. As a family it is important that everyone is saying the same thing...when a loved one dies it is difficult for a child if one person says the loved one is an angel, another says he is sitting on a cloud, another says he is in heaven etc. I would caution against saying that when death occurs the person has stayed asleep as this can make a child frightened of going to sleep themselves.
If your grandaughter does lose her grandad, there can sometimes be little reaction which adults can find upsetting. If it their first experience of death, there is a lot to take in.
Just be totally honest with her and tell her the facts clearly and simply so that she is prepared. Others have mentioned some of the excellent books that are available.

durhamjen Thu 12-May-16 21:56:28

What are the facts if you have a family where some are religious and others are not?

Alea Thu 12-May-16 22:20:05

Not wishing to be flippant but today, taking DGS2 (4 1/2) to the loo he asked"'Granny, as you are very old does that mean you are going to die soon?"
Less of the old I thought (just turned 68!)! So I said "No way, I am going to be around for AGES to tickle and tease you."
I laughed it off but it did give me pause for thought 😱😱😱😱

TwiceAsNice Thu 12-May-16 22:57:38

I worked with Cruse with bereaved children for a long time. Answer any questions honestly according to your beliefs as a family. Do not use euphemisms like "goes to sleep" or "gone on a journey" The first will make them afraid of sleeping the second makes them believe he can come back. Children under 5 don't understand that death is permanent and some children don't understand this until they are 6 or 7.

Research shows children do better if they are allowed to attend the funeral and have some way of saying goodbye and remembering even if they are small. I've never spoken to a child whose regretted going to a funeral I've met many who regretted not being allowed to. It is not frightening if there is a trusted adult who can be with the child and reassure them about anything they experience.

Books are good preparation before and after but be prepared to be asked to read and discuss the same things many times. Children move in and out of grief but feel it just as much as adults. Making memory boxes or being given keepsakes which mean something to the child is comforting. Be prepared that children of all ages will regress physically and emotionally in the aftermath of a death and may be afraid other beloved people may die as well so may be more clingy, or be reluctant to go to school. Let them talk about the person they've lost and don't hide your grief from them , that doesn't protect them it makes them think you don't care.

Always tell the truth in a way that can be understood and share comfort as a family.