Discussing Death with Children

Discussing Death with Children
December 1, 2011 jflojennings

By Jessica Del Llano

I was 17 when I lost my first grandparent – my grandfather.  There were extended family and friends of the family who passed away during my youth, but never someone as close to me as a grandparent.  At 17, I was so unprepared emotionally to deal with that kind of loss, and frankly, it never got easier.  It was 7 years before I lost another grandparent.  It became about the huge life events they missed like my wedding, and getting to meet their great-granddaughter.  Their absence was especially felt during those special times.  I never processed the death of a grandparent as a child.  It was always from a young adult or adult’s perspective.

My father-in-law has been ill for some time, suffering with a debilitating pulmonary disease, and he passed away surrounded by family in the ICU of Lowell General Hospital on November 19.

I have to admit I was very hesitant about approaching the subject of death with my 2-year-old daughter, Sara.  She was aware Papa was in the hospital, but I found myself without the right words to explain that he was gone.

My own earliest memory is from age 3, so I am sad Sara may not have many, if any, memories of her Papa.  We can tell her stories, we can show her pictures, but it’s just not the same.  I was blessed with 17 years having all four of my grandparents, and I’m lucky to still have my Nana with us today.

Someone recently shared the story “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf” by Leo Buscaglia with me, and it’s a wonderful book that puts death in a perspective children can understand.  If you haven’t read it before, it’s worth it, no matter how old you are.  I think that’s my best bet for approaching this with Sara right now, and I hope it helps her understand what happened on some level, though it may take until she’s older before she really grasps what she has lost.

What’s your experience discussing death with your children?

Comment (1)

  1. Sorry for your recent loss, Jessica. My father-in-law died when my first child was seven months old. There is such a sense of grief that you feel when you know your child doesn’t have that grandparent to enjoy anymore. It compounds your own loss.

    My mother-in -law lived with us for four years. She had advanced Alzheimers and needed complete care. The kids often helped take care of her and were very close to her. When she passed away in 2006, the oldest was twenty-one, and my youngest, five. My thirteen year old son, Charlie, was with me, my husband, and my mom at her bedside when she died. Since there is a sixteen year age span between all my kids, I had to deal with the grieving process a bit differently for each child. All the different ages come with different questions and different responses to the loss.

    Keep lots of pictures of your father-in-law in an album and write down all your memories you recall of him with your daughter. She’ll have that to look at in years to come. You posted a beautiful picture here on the blog. I’m sure you must treasure it and the memories.
    <3 Sue

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