I have been wanting to write this article for a long time, but always
found something else to write instead.
It is the first anniversary of the day we lost my mother-in-law to
cancer, and I feel like it’s time that I sat down and shared.
It’s hard to tell how anyone will react to the loss of
a loved one, but it becomes especially difficult when you’re
not even sure how much the person will understand about what is
happening, and this is the obstacle when it comes to your
It will depend on the age and stage of mental development your child has
reached at this time, so it’s impossible for me to offer specifics on
how to handle such a life changing experience.
I can however share with you how we handled it when this
happened to us, and share some tips to help you navigate these tricky
waters on your own.
Death is a difficult topic to approach at any age, but unfortunately is
inevitable. Take a deep breath, take your time, and keep it
Handling Death and Grief With
Start Early When Possible.
We knew my mother-in-law was living with cancer, and knew it would be
something we would need to address with our daughter (Maddie)
eventually, so we started earlier.
We had conversations about spending time with family
since they wont always be around, as well as conversations
surrounding old age, and the limitations of what someone can do
as their body gets older.
Death Should Not Be Attached to Illness.
If you end up in a situation similar to ours, try not to attach
the event of death to illness.
Children make connections much quicker than we give them credit for, and
the last thing you want is for you child to be concerned you are going
to die the next time you are sick with a cold.
Have them focus on facts, and hope.
Maddie knew that “Oma” was in the hospital, and knew that people go to
the hospital when there is something wrong that they need a doctor’s
help with. But we never visited Oma “because she was sick”, we visited
to “Make Oma smile today”.
When the time came that we needed to tell Maddie her Oma had passed
away, we kept it simple and stuck to the changes she would understand.
It looked something like this…
“We’re not going to be seeing Oma anymore. Remember how
we talked about people’s bodies and how they change as they get older?
Well Oma’s body got very old, and when that happens, it stops working
the way we’re used to.
Oma’s body can’t play, or talk, or walk around anymore.
She had lots of fun with all of us, but now that her body stopped
working, she’ll be watching you grow from up in the sky where she can
see us all whenever she wants.“
Show Your Emotions.
I know this is generally a time when people think they need to be
“strong” for their loved ones, but it’s ok to cry.
I was crying while I told Maddie what had happened…I cried while
I typed what I said to Maddie above…it’s OK.
It’s important that your child understand that…
- It’s ok to show your emotions. When you are
feeling something, share it with your family, we’re here to support one
- Death is a life changing experience. Nothing will
be the same anymore, and it’s ok to be sad having to say goodbye to
- Sadness can be a sign of how grateful you are that
you got to be a part of someone’s life, and they a part of yours.
It’s crucial that you grieve as you need to. Holding in your
emotions “for the better of others” is only delaying your process, and
you will still need to handle your feelings eventually.
It’s better to do it together with those you love, and help each other
through this difficult time as a family.
Remember That Actions Always Speak Louder Than
Clearly the choice is yours, but while I was initially hesitant about
bringing Maddie to the visitation and “celebration of life” services, I
was so glad that I did.
Seeing so many people that loved and cared for her Oma just like she did
showed her how loved she really was, what a happy and positive life she
led, and also reinforced the fact that this was a big change, and Oma
was not coming back.
While I hope that this is not something you need to deal with any time
soon, if the situation does present itself, I hope these tips help.
If you feel that your child is having an especially hard time
understanding what is going on, or handling their feelings surrounding
death, please speak with a professional who can help
you and your child through this difficult time together (your
pediatrician should be able to suggest someone local to you).
Have you had to explain
death to your little one? How did you approach it?
This post was written by Julia:
Julia is all about rocking “Mom life” in every way! She has a husband of 7 years, is mom to a spirited 3 year old daughter, and lives in Niagara Region, ON, Canada. Check her out on RockItLikeAMom.com for lots of easy recipes, DIY projects, parenting articles, and up front Mom talk!this easy step-by-step tutorial on how start a blog (no tech knowledge required).