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Helping children when a grandparent dies

(20 Posts)
JaneAnn Mon 17-Jul-23 22:46:30

Does anyone have advice? One grandchild in particular is taking it very hard

Doodledog Tue 18-Jul-23 00:14:13

That' a very open question, JaneAnn. How old is the child, and do they have any religious faith?

I think a lot depends on how much they understand, and whether they think the grandparent is in heaven or just 'not here'.

My children were very little when my father died. My daughter was a baby, so too young to be told anything, and my son was under three. We are not a religious family. There was a rainbow in the sky a couple of days after he dies, and I told my son that Gramps hadn't had time to say goodbye, but he would be happy if whenever son saw a rainbow he would think of him. For a little while, he did comment when he saw a rainbow that it was Gramps smiling at him, but he soon forgot, as he was so young. It seemed to help him at the time though.

When my FIL died, they were old enough to understand - maybe 10 and 12 or thereabouts. They were upset, as they were old enough to have had a proper relationship with Grandad, and to understand what dying meant. They also saw that their own father was upset, which was difficult for them. There wasn't much we could say, apart from to let them talk about him whenever they wanted to, and to decide for themselves whether to come to the funeral with no pressure either way.

Death is very sad for those left behind, and faith must be very useful if you have it, but as we don't we acknowledged the sadness and tried hard to concentrate on remembering FIL happily. He was a good man, so that was easy in some ways, although obviously difficult in others.

NotSpaghetti Tue 18-Jul-23 00:31:01

I think it's important that they understand adults are upset just as they are. Also that the adults continue to talk about the person who has died (which keeps them alive in our thoughts).
My children benefited from being at the funeral and not being shut away from it all.

There are lots of good picture/story books on the subject if you have younger children.

Hithere Tue 18-Jul-23 02:19:03

What are the parents doing to help the child?

BlueBelle Tue 18-Jul-23 04:09:46

Two of my grandkids lost their Daddy when they were 4 and 6 my daughter used Winstons wish for advice it was just hard work for her but they came through they are now young adults
It’s very individual both children dealt with it very differently
Strangely the boy much more outward grief the girl internalised it all I could go into lots more detail but it’s very much down to many individual things
My two went to the funeral on advice my daughter was told if they don’t have that closure they often expect to see the person again or feel they haven’t really died but left them on purpose It was heart breaking for everyone but they are strong 20 and 22 year olds now

fiorentina51 Tue 18-Jul-23 06:05:17

When my husband died suddenly last year, we were all in shock. At the time, my grandchildren ranged in age from 15 to 10 months.
Apart from the 10 month old, who was her usual self, they all responded differently. The 15 year old was tearful initially then reverted to his usual quiet self. The 9 year old twins have very different personalities, one very reserved, the other very open with his grieving.
Their parents took a whole family approach. They talked about grandad and how much he is missed. That we are all here to support each other and that it's normal to be sad and tearful.

Regarding the funeral, they were offered the option of not attending though it was pointed out that it was a way of saying goodbye. All 3 boys decided to attend.
I asked my son, nephew, son in law and eldest grandson to be bearers and my son suggested that the twins could also participate if they wanted to. I wasn't too sure but we put it to them and they both agreed.
They did a wonderful job and I was very proud of them.

I think, for us, it was a good idea to have the children involved. Even the 10 month old was there!
Everyone will have their own way of dealing with a death in the family and we all grieve in different ways.
Just follow what the parents decide to do. Share happy memories and offer a hug if needed. Talk, laugh or cry.

On the day of my husband's funeral, after the wake when just close family came back to my house, I was making a cup of tea in the kitchen when I felt 2 small arms go round my waist and squeeze me tightly. It was one of the twins, the quiet one. He didn't say anything. He didn't need to. A cuddle was enough..

M0nica Tue 18-Jul-23 06:47:02

When my two were 9 & 11 their grandfather died. He had been ill with Parkinson's for some years and after a hospital visit a few months before his death, went steadily down hill. We never hid from them that we daily awaited hearing of his death and when it did come they accepted it. It never occurred to us that they would not come to the funeral.

Two years later his much younger wife died after the briefest of illnesses. From the time a doctor came to visit and told us her sudden collapse was caused by an undiagnosed terminal cancer, we kept the children informed and shared our fears and grief.

In fact we always kept the children in the loop for everything good and bad, from death, illness and disaster. be open, talk about their grandfather's death, your own sadness and grief - and the happy memories. Let them feel there is nothing they cannot talk to you about and that you are open and will talk the them about their grandfather, spontaneously.

teabagwoman Tue 18-Jul-23 06:56:59

Not knowing the ages of the children makes it difficult. The Child Bereavement Network does a set of postcards with advice on helping a child cope. There’s one they can show their friends and one to give their teacher as well as one for parents and one for the child themselves. Maybe make a memory box together with photos, written memories of things they did together, things the grandparent said etc. Some children find it helpful to have something in their pocket that they can hold on to when they feel upset. At the hospice where I volunteer we give children a smooth painted pebble for this purpose. It’s never easy.

Hetty58 Tue 18-Jul-23 07:26:12

I think children tend to mirror the adult response to death. If we're calm and accepting of what is, of course, a natural stage of life (the end) then they won't find grief so traumatic.

In our society, though, we're still pretty clueless about death, it's the last big taboo. It's either underplayed/ignored or dramatically overplayed.

We shouldn't assume that a child will be distressed by the loss of a grandparent, needing 'help' as they may only be a bit sad. They may not have had a close bond anyway.

Children are far more adaptable than adults, being used to many, rapid changes in their early years. Still, they may look to us for clues about their response. Seeing a parent upset will be unsettling.

I didn't understand at all, aged five - so my response to being told that Grandma had died was hysterical laughter and disbelief - that didn't go down well!

Imarocker Tue 18-Jul-23 07:37:05

My grandchildren - 11,15,18 - just lost their great grandmother. They were all very fond of her and visited regularly. However they had understood for a long time that she was very old. They had been told in the last few months that she was very old and visited her a week before she died. We were all very calm and loving and they have many books which she bought for them. She had quite a collection of soft toys which had been bought for her and I gave them one each. The 15 year old in particular found this very comforting as he said that it ‘smelt of her’. They all came to the funeral and the 11 year old chose to give her own eulogy. We have spoken to them over the years about how people live on in our hearts and in the things that we do. For young ones there are several good books - one by Michael Rosen and the one we particularly liked The Paper Dolls.

Luckygirl3 Tue 18-Jul-23 07:46:37

When my OH died, the GC were 5, 7 (x2), 11 (x2), 15 and 17. So they all coped in their own different ways; but nothing was hidden from them.

The two smallest were local and at our house a lot - the 5 year old boy, after the death, came crashing into the house (as 5 year old boys do!) and said "I'm sorry Papa has died" at the top of his voice. To be honest it was quite refreshing after all the mumbled embarrassed responses from adults. We had a hug and I agreed that it was indeed sad.

Those two had been very aware of OH's decline and were involved in his care, taking great delight in letting me know that Papa's wee bag is full.

All the GC saw his decline so the death did not come as a bolt out of the blue. The 7 year old had her birthday party the day after, and I did go to that - her parents told the children the day after about it, as we did not want to spoil the party. Each GC had supported him n their own different ways.

I made no pretence of knowing anything abut an after life, but talked abut all the things they had done together now being a part of them, and that this would stay forever, as we are all changed by those around us.

Five of the GC came to the funeral and conducted themselves with calm and dignity, and the other two came to the wake.

I talk about him a lot, and so do they, and I think that is a healthy thing. They talk openly about death and the 2 little ones often discuss the topic, asking when I might die, and will I be dead when they are 20 and so on - I answer in a factual way and they can see that it is not something to fear but just a part of the cycle of life, and that they are allowed to talk about it.

Greyduster Tue 18-Jul-23 08:42:00

We only have one grandchild. My grandson was 15 when DH died last year. They were always very close - I used to call them “me and my shadow”, and GS visited him in the hospital a few days before died. He had always known what was wrong with DH and I don’t think it was any real surprise when it happened. We had never pulled any punches with him and encouraged him to ask questions. He was upset but seemed to be dealing with it very well, even through the funeral when he sat and held my hand, but as he and I walked out of the crem, my big beautiful caring boy absolutely broke his heart. I was glad. He needed that release sooner rather than later. We talk about him a lot. He has his good watch and a pair of his favourite cufflinks, but, surprisingly, he asked me if he could have a light fleece gilet that DH used to wear a lot. He took it on his D of E exped and wore it every day, and still wears it on occasion - usually when some team or other needs a bit of good luck!

Iam64 Tue 18-Jul-23 08:45:28

We involved our 4, aged 3, 4, 6 and y when grandad died as much as possible. They didn’t come to the funeral, but came to the reception venue the following day, where we’d an exhibition of his art and books. We had a video/photographs on a screen which they enjoyed watching, identifying which of them as a baby was on grandad’s knee. We had family photographs on boards, which made them laugh and feel happy in the love displayed.
We all went on from there to the the woodland burial plot, leaning messages for him. Then back to grannie’s for food and time together.
We have tried to keep this feeling if shared love and expressed grief, talking of him easily, showing our emotions and trying to keep that balance not to overwhelm

Septimia Tue 18-Jul-23 08:56:55

I've told young relatives that, if you love someone and they love you, that love doesn't go away just because they're not there. You carry it with you all your life and it contributes to the person that you are.

Joseann Tue 18-Jul-23 08:58:55

My children never had grandparents, but I'm hoping that the grief my own grandchildren will have, will be worth it for the love and kindness DH and I are giving them now.
It's never convenient whenever it happens, but it's good to hear advice on this thread.

harrigran Tue 18-Jul-23 10:01:54

When DH died we asked my GDs if they would like to write a letter to Granda which they did. Eldest GD who is an artist also made a small bouquet of paper flowers which was placed in the coffin with the letters.
Eldest GD also wrote a eulogy which was read by the celebrant as it was too emotional for a 15 year old to read aloud.
Both GDs seemed to cope well, nothing was hidden from them and they had a lot of support.

LovelyLady Tue 18-Jul-23 12:17:34

If it’s in UK, then contact ‘Daisies Dream’
They are truly wonderful and highly rated.
Best wishes for a little help and support soon.

Kate54 Tue 18-Jul-23 12:28:38

Just wanted to say that I found all these responses very moving.

Nannashirlz Tue 18-Jul-23 15:17:33

When my dad died my sons were 10-12 at the time we kept nothing from them we included them all the way even picking flowers from themselves they both attended the funeral. I was unsure at the time but last min I allowed them to go. We would look at photos and talk about things they did with their grandad we still do more so on his anniversary my sons have photos of themselves with him on their walls in their homes my advice would be talk about them openly don’t avoid the subject remember the happy times talk about how everyone dies it’s fine to feel sad and pain and it’s also fine to smile and remember the happy memories. My youngest 4yr grandson never met my dad but he knows he’s in heaven watching over us. Could be all they want to do is talk about them but don’t want to upset you. If you talk them.

Gundy Tue 18-Jul-23 17:34:43

It does depend on closeness of grandparent, how things were explained (or not!) to child about illness, the possibility of death to prepare them, and the after “shock” of the rest of the family in dealing with the loss.

All those variables play into this. There is counseling, of course (which greatly helped my great-nieces when their father died suddenly at age 50.)

But what matters first is listening to the child. Then, the truth - as younger children will create their own reality if they aren’t told things up front.

It’s a delicate thing for a child’s first death loss. My heart goes out to them.