Sunday, November 16, 2008

How To Help Children Cope With Death

Since we've been dealing with this in our family, I've been thinking a lot about it. And I have a friend from church who just lost her mother, which is her young son's first encounter with death. (We're praying for you Christyl!) And I also have two good friends who are facing losing a parent and Grandparent and have young children as well who will face this for the first time. (Dana and Tammy, I'm praying for you too) And as parents we not only deal with the loss to ourselves, but we hurt all the more watching our kids go through it. So, I thought I'd share a few of the things I've learned as we walked through it.

The most important thing is that everyone grieves differently. There is no right way, and there is no wrong way. It can be as individual as we are from each other. Some people cry, some scream, some get angry, some just sit quietly, the list could go on and on.

For my kids, their first real encounter with death was when we lost my sister 7 years ago. She died of cancer in her 40's. She and I were very close, and she was very close to my kids as well. They loved their Aunt Debbie! Then 2 years after Debbie, my Dad, who my kids loved more than life and were extremely close to as well, passed away. It was heart breaking to say the least, for our entire family. Then 2 years after that, we lost John's sister, unexpectedly, to heart failure at the young age of 47. Aunt Linda was gone too.

There is no protocol as to how to get through something like this. You just have to do what you feel is best for your children and your family. I found myself doing things I never thought I would do, and even probably said I'd never do. For example, I am a photographer, I love taking pictures and capturing memories. So it was just natural for me, when I realized this is the last opportunity I will ever have to take a picture of this person that I love so much, I wanted pictures. So, at the funerals I asked all my family if it bothered anyone if I took pictures of the deceased. They all knew it meant a lot to me and said of course I could. Before that I never thought I would have. And at first I looked at those pictures a lot. Now I never do. But, I'm still glad I know that I have them. I've heard people say they could never do that, that's not how they want to remember the person they love. And I understand that. But, I also know that I don't think of my kids only as they are in their last school picture. Your memories are vast and span a lifetime, and will continue to do so. You might think that's disgusting to take pictures at a funeral, and that's okay. What's right for me, may not be right for you, and the other way around. You do what you need to do to get through it.

People want to know if you should take children to funerals. I feel like probably not babies, but if your child is old enough to sit through a service quietly and they know the person and are old enough to remember, they absolutely should go. Just like we as adults need that time to say goodbye, and to morn, children do as well. You know your child and what they can handle. And I would say Don't hide it from them, and don't force it on them either way. I feel like it's okay for them to miss one day of school in their life time for the chance to say goodbye for the last time to someone they love.

When they have questions, try to answer them as best as you can. I try to not make up stories just to make us feel better that aren't really true, like telling my kids that the person they love has now become our guardian angel. If you are a Bible believing family (which we are) the Bible is very clear that angels were created to be angels, and people were created to be people "a little higher than the angels" and "in the very image of God," and just because we pass from this life to the next, doesn't mean we change species. We talk about how that person is now in heaven, and as the Bible says, they will never feel pain again! That is Awesome! Especially if someone suffered. They will never cry or be sad ever again. And best of all, they are with Jesus! There is nothing better than that! Even though we miss them terribly, and are sad here, they are in a much better place. I bought my kids a book written by Maria Shriver, that she wrote for her children when they lost their Grandmother. It's called "What's Heaven?" It might not be theologically sound, but it's a good book for helping young kids understand what's happening.

Another thing I thought I would never do is visit the cemetery. I would drive by one and see people out there and think those poor, ignorant people, the person they're missing isn't really there in the cemetery, they're in heaven. But then I realized you don't go for that person, we go for us. Every couple of years, it's usually my mom, but it has been one of my brothers on occasion, will mention that they'd like us all to go. So, we'll go. This past Saturday was one of those times. It had been a couple of years since we've done this. We all met at my Dad's grave sight (about 30 of us) then we went out to lunch and then over to my sister's grave sight. We cry, we laugh, we talk and remember. Sometimes we might read a verse from the Bible, this time we sang "Amazing Grace" and "I'll fly away," then some of the younger girls sang the song "I miss you" that Miley Cyrus wrote about her grandpa that died. It was beautiful. And I thought "I wonder what people driving by are thinking about us right now?" and then I realized I didn't really care.

Every time we go, Kyle who was very close to his grandpa, as soon as we pull up in the cemetery, starts to quietly sob, and does so the entire time we are there. Others might shed a tear or two, some don't cry at all. And that's all okay. Again, everyone is different. And we respect and support each other, and offer love and comfort. After all that's what families are for. It's okay for your kids to see you cry and upset. Don't try to hide it from them, they are more observant than we think, they already know. Just let them know your missing that person right now, and that you'll be okay.

Also, I want to mention that some kids want to leave something there. Especially, It seems like, the newer the death and/or the younger the child, they NEED to leave something of themselves behind. So prepare for that. Weather it's flowers, a Christmas ornament, or something they've made. This time my girls made Thanksgiving cards. One time, close to Christmas, we decided to leave a Reindeer antenna ball we got from Jack-in-the-box. That may seem funny to you, but Grandpa was a truck driver and he loved Christmas. We thought it was the perfect thing! It can be anything. You can pick out flowers together with your child, or choose something they think reminds them of that person. Even if they say they don't want to bring anything, they may change their mind once they get there. So, one thing you can do is tear a page out of a coloring book that they colored and put it in your purse, then when they start to get upset they didn't bring something, you can say, "I have this picture you colored, do you want to write on it To Grandpa (or whoever it's for) and leave it here? He would have loved to see your picture." I don't know what it is, but it just makes kids feel better to leave something there. My kids have left pieces of Jewelry they were wearing before as well. And whatever you leave, even if it's artificial flowers, don't expect it to be there the next time you come back. Between grounds keepers and the weather, etc. it won't be. Don't let it upset you, just know ahead of time.

One thing I did for our kids (and my mom) on the first Christmas after we lost my dad was to get them each a collage picture frame & put in it pictures of them with my dad. They are all still hanging in their rooms. I also blew up a picture I took the last Thanksgiving Linda was alive of John's parents and all his siblings together, and framed them and gave one to each family member. You can also get a special 'Grandpa' or 'Aunt', (etc.) ornament for your Christmas tree, and each year as you hang it up you talk about them and remember together. Another thing I have done is to create a special memory box. It can be a shoe box or a hat box, whatever size you need. And in the box I keep photos of that person, all the sympathy cards people have sent me, the program from the funeral, newspaper clippings. Dried flowers from the funeral. And with my sister, I had many cards & letters that she'd written to me over the years, I love having things in her handwriting. I now have a Grandpa Box, a Debbie Box and a Linda Box. And if my kids ever need a picture of Grandpa for a school project or something I know right were they are.

And please remember there is no right way or wrong way to handle a death of someone you love. You just get through it the best that you can for you and your family. I have learned that talking about it helps much more than it hurts. It's okay to be honest with yourself and your children about how much your hurting and that you know they are hurting. It does get easier with time. But it never completely goes away. And we wouldn't want it to!

I'm including some pictures from this past Saturday, for my family members that couldn't be there. If it bothers you feel free not to look. Remember I love to take pictures and capture the moment in time.

My family, my mom, three of my brothers and their families
& some of my sisters kids and grandkids.


Kyle thinking of Grandpa.


My mom with her grandkids & great-grandkids.


One of my sisters grand-babies that she never got to meet.


70 comments:

stefanie said...

Star,

I found this to be quite moving, and special, and right. Thank you.

When we were 'back home' last year, we went with my dad and brother to my mom's grave. El spent several minutes cleaning a few months dirt and grass clippings from the plaque. With her bare hands. It made her happy. I took pictures because it was such a sweet moment to see her doing that for my mom. My dad brought flowers, we brought flowers, and my 50 year old brother brought a pinwheel. A lady bug whose wings were spinning in the wind. You're right. It's good for all ages.

Everything you mentioned is part of the healing process.

Jennifer said...

I'm so sorry about all of your losses. It sounds like you've done a great job helping the kids mourn and cope in ther own ways.

Thank you for visiting my blog!!

Christyl said...

Thanks so much, Star, for writing this. Jacob actually lost his beloved teacher who he had for 2.5 years, last year. He had such a hard time over her, I don't know how he's being such a little trooper about my mom. He has his moments, but over all he's doing ok. He did take flowers to her grave, all his idea. He went to the funeral, even though I had to take him outside at one point.

Love you and your family.
~ Christyl

Anonymous said...

Beautiful blog Star :) After losing both my mom and Korri's and helping our girls through it, I agree, everyone grieves in their own way, in their own time, and for their own duration. There's no right or wrong way, it's simply that each person finds his/her own way and the best we can do is support them. Madison and Nana shared a very special bond, esp. with regards to reading. Every Monday was "Nana Day" and she'd arrive with a big smile and and even bigger totebag full of books she'd checked out and that's how they spent the day. After she lost Nana, Madison would not read anymore, she said it made her miss her too much. I tried every genre, author, and approach and finally backed off. Just recently, she has rediscovered the joy of reading and learned how continuing that is a tribute to Nana, who planted that love of reading in her early on. It was frustrating for me to watch and wait, cuz she was an early and amazing reader, but she needed time and she needed to find her own way through this expression of her grief. She's still an amazing reader and writer, and has found ways to use these gifts to express her grief (stories, poems, songs) and to memorialize her Nana's special contribution to them. Sometimes the things we most enjoyed about or with our loved one, are the things we can no longer enjoy after losing them. 14 years later and I still bawl like a baby when I hear one of my mom's favorite hymns or Christmas carols and I want to bolt, but I've begun to let myself enjoy them again, like I did all those years with her; she would have wanted it that way. Madison and I both realized (once we worked through the various emotions), that allowing yourself to enjoy those things again is a beautiful way to keep their memory alive and honor them. So as Christmas nears, we intend to curl up on the couch with a good book and some classic Christmas carols and help continue the healing :) I pray the same for all who may be experiencing loss whether past, present, or future.
Tandra

Betsy said...

My grand parents died in 2007, 3 months apart... my daughter took it really hard. I found that always letting her talk, cry, feel her pain, sadness and missing them helped her feel safe and comfortable in their passing. We now live in their house... and to some extent... I think it helped my daughter too... feel them around her.

Laurel said...

Thanks so much Star. We buried my brother in law in November and it was very important to my husband that all the children come. I agree with everything you said.

BTW - I love your header picture:)!

Rhea said...

I love the collage idea, and I agree that kids should go to funerals. Nice post! I'm sorry you've lost so many loved ones. :o(

thegiftchick said...

The last picture in this post was very moving.

The Wife O Riley said...

That's a lovely post, thank you!

Creative Junkie said...

Thank you for your insight.

We have been blessed so far not to have to deal with anything like this. However, we will be dealing with it soon and my biggest worry, other than how I'm going to handle it, is how my kids are going to handle it.

Louisa said...

I too am so very sorry to hear of your losses. Thanks for sharing how you and your family have addressed this. I think what you said about their being no 'right' way to grieve is so true and so helpful to remember! Thanks

Melissa Papaj Photography said...

WOW! AWESOME ADVICE!!! THANK YOU!

Coffee with Cathy said...

I am so sorry for your losses. Thank you for this valuable post and for sharing your experiences and advice.

Ryan Ashley Scott@Opitimistic Cyicism said...

You give a lot of wonderful advice about something we will all go through if we haven't already. Thank you for sharing. This was a beautifully thoughtful post.

Tara said...

Thank you for the beautiful advice...we just had two very unexpected losses in our family over the holidays and can use all the advice we can get right now. Thanks

Out of the Box Sampler said...

Thank you for sharing that with us all. Wonderful advice.

Blessings,
Michelle

Erika said...

Thank you for this post. I think our culture as a whole tries to hide death and just look the other way, pretending everything is fine when we really need to work through it...

Diva Scrapper said...

What a heartfelt story..thank you for sharing. I have never really had to deal with the death of a close one..at least not yet. I fear the day...will I be strong. Thank you for your encouraging words.

Astrid said...

Beautiful post!

I have had the unfortunate experience of losing my dad when I was very young (11). It was an extreme hardship on my family (to say the least). I was very very confused by everything that happened. I had sessions with the school counselor who made me read stories/books that didn't pertain to my situation and made me feel sadder. A lot of hurtful things were said...anyway...I could go on and on.

Last month we went to a service for a friend's stillborn. We were debating whether or not to take our girls to it. We did end up taking them but we discussed what had happened. I'm not sure if they understood but I'm glad we took them.

That reminds me. I really need to dig out photos of my dad.

Happy SITS day!

Heather said...

So many people fear death, and everything that surrounds it (funerals, hospitals, etc.).

We forget that death is a part of life, a time to celebrate the life of our loved one, but also to celebrate the beginning of their new life with Christ.

Great post. Congrats on your SITS day!

Karen said...

I think it's sweet you do this. My family is too spread out around the country to gather like this, but whenever I'm in town where my grandpa is buried I always visit his grave.

April said...

Awesome post! I lost my mom, brother (47), and dad in only 6 short years. It was very hard, but with my faith, and family and friends, I got through it. The lessons you shared are exellent.

Melanie said...

What an awesome post! I also believe that everyone grieves in their own way... even children... and we should embrace the moments when they "get it" and help them through the process...

Wendy@RuensOnTheRun said...

Wow - what a touching post. Thank you for sharing. I have 3 little boys and I know we will be dealing with this sometime over the next couple of years and I'm thankful for your advice.

ScrappinAway said...

Thanks for sharing this. I have an 18month old, so the advice was good, since we have not had to deal with this yet.
I live on the east cost and never thought about what other cemetaries may look like, but I guess in Arizona there isn't much grass, but it still suprised me not to see it.

Thrifty and Chic Mom said...

Thank for sharing

Becky Welch said...

Thank you for your thoughts. We have gone through this with my childen lately - losing my grandmother and then an older friend we had visited. Each child is different and handles things different ways. Thank you so much!

Shalee- Be Speechless said...

Oh dear, I think I cried on my computer. Thank you so much for sharing. We might lose my husband's grandfather soon and I am worried on how he will take it. I've never seen him grieve. But thank you so much for this post. It helps me remember that he will grieve differently then me.
You are a beautiful writer and please keep writing.

Happy SITS day.

Claire said...

A lovely post. I was crying just reading it. Thanks for sharing!

Kelly Deneen said...

This post was very moving and full of great ideas for remembering a loved one. I think it's fabulous that you do so much to remember the ones you have lost.

Ali said...

What a great, informative post. Very touching. I love that you have boxes of pictures and memoribilia of loved ones so your kids can remember them--great idea:)

Ex-in-the-City said...

Thank you, Star.

Cammie said...

This is a great post. Thank you for sharing it with us

Jaden Paige said...

You have some great ideas for ways to remember your loved ones. Thanks for sharing, and Happy SITS day!

Barb said...

what a beautiful post.... I agree with you so much about how we grieve and that no one way is right or wrong..we all have our own ways and our own ideas.
My hubby died in an accident 11years ago and my girls were very small...it was very hard to explain to them, and I did the best I could..I took the two bigger ones to the funeral but the little one was only 16months...so didn't take her. We often visit the cemetary to see him...the girls always want to go and take flowers or used to make him pictures, but they always seemed uncomfortable there...for me it was peaceful..I had a granite bench made in his memory to be able to sit on when I went there. It was a great place to reflect and such a great sense of peace. I had also taken my hubby's clothes and had quilts made out of them for my girls...just another way to remember him.....
Thanks for sharing this post...you have made me remember so many things about my hubby that I miss so much still after all these years... I have tears in my eyes, but its ok...they are happy memories....

Life by the Handful said...

The thing I am loving about you Star is that you see the shades of gray in life but draw the line when it needs to be drawn regarding theology. Great post and wonderful family.

Leah said...

Thanks for that post. I am coming up on the second anniversary of my brother's death (Jan.24). You are right....everyone grieves differently. We have pictures of my brother in the casket, and although I don't look at them often, I am glad we have them. I keep framed photos of my brother around the house - just so my kids can remember their uncle. They know he is gone and sometimes Mom will cry, but I think they understand that it's ok to cry.
Anyway, I'm visiting from SITS. Congrats on your day! :)

Reeni♥ said...

What a great post! Especially for someone who doesn't know quite what to say or do for grieving children.

Laura said...

This is very good advice. Thank you for sharing.

thedailyelephant said...

Thank you for sharing, good advice

Vickie said...

Thank you for sharing a personal part of you life. I am sorry for all of your losses.

You are right, everybody grieves differently. It is a way of dealing.

I am also working on a collage box about my Dad. It is a wonderful way to remember a loved one. The only problem is, I don't have a lot of stuff that was my Dad's. My Mom is not ready to give it up and I totally understand why. I would not want to either.

Joy said...

Such a good, smart, wise post, Star.

Congrats on your SITS feature. :o)

blognut said...

Very moving post - thanks.

Lisa M said...

Hey Star. This post made me tear up. My mom passed away from Leukemia last year (wow, can't believe it's been a year already), and I've only been to her gravesite once. My daughter has asked to go back again soon, and this post helped me to think about her visit (and future visits)a little differently.
Thanks for the suggestions.

Mimi said...

Our church got a blazing hard lesson in this when our Pastor's daughter committed suicide last April one day after her 14th birthday.

The Lord has been good & we've tried to make the kids know that life will go back to normal, it will just be a different kind of normal.

Elizabeth M Thompson said...

Great post! Our family also experienced several deaths over a few years. Our children have been exposed to much more grief than their peers. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on helping grieving kids.

Blue Castle said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences and how you, as a family, have dealt with death. We haven't had to deal with this yet, but I know it will happen at some point and it's good to be prepared in some way.

The Sweet Jelly Bean said...

Although I don't have children, I felt that this entry was very moving and helpful to think about, even as an adult. My grandfather died June 2007 - I'd never really lost anyone before as both sides of my family have a history of living into their 90s. He was the first, and it was hard as a 20-something, much less as it would be for a child. Thanks for writing this.

Brandy said...

Honestly cementaries freak me out.

Saundra@ItalianMamaGoneCrazy said...

I am so sorry for your losses.

Beautiful post.

I learned a lot.

Just say Julie said...

Thank you for sharing this. My son has not had to deal with a family member's death, although I lost 3 grandparents at a very early age. I hope that when the situation arises, I can teach him that it's ok to grieve, but that we can also heal and celebrate memories.

Debbie said...

This was a very heart-felt post and you said so many good things - Thanks for sharing this. As much as we all hate it, death is a part of life, and you have some really good explanations of how to help children deal with it.

K said...

I luckily haven't had to face this yet (my son is still pretty young), but I imagine it a very difficult time.

Thanks for the tips.

Zen Ventures said...

Death is not a stranger in my family either. We lost my father and my brother to it and you're right, we all grieve differently. Some of us takes it harder, some find peace in it. No matter how we approach it, death takes away a special part of us and it's ok to cry!

Maricris
Zen Ventures
Golden Flower Creations

JessicaMarie said...

Thank you for this. There really is no "one, right way" to deal with death. But it is the one thing that we have in common with everyone from all walks of life. Thanks for sharing your family's experience.

Kat said...

What a great post about a very difficult issue.

I lost my dad two years ago. And it was really hard on my kids. Because it happened so suddenly, they never got to say goodbye. And he lived with us. He had been a part of my girls lives from the moment they entered this world.

We actually had a photographer at the funeral. He was an elementary school librarian - so there were so many members of the community there that I didn't know - but it is so nice to go back and look at those pictures.

The girls each have a picture of themselves with their grandpa in their rooms.

mrsbear said...

Wonderful advice. We've never lost anyone close to us yet, it's nice to know what to expect. And I think it's lovely that your entire family goes to the cemetery together, to remember those you've lost.

Sherrie said...

Happy SITS day to you! Excellent post. I really am not ready to experience this with my two boys, but I'm sure we will soon enough b/c all of our parents are aging. Thanks for sharing ideas of how to handle such a delicate situation.

Swirl Girl said...

I have tears in my eyes.

Ronnica said...

Good advice. I've been very fortunate to never have felt death very personally. Sometimes it's hard to know how to help those around who are grieving since I've never really been there.

Mrs. D said...

My daughter went to her first funeral in October. She's 3, and it was her great grandpa. She just kept saying, "He wake up?" And I said, "No, we're sad because he died." And she said, "He died? We're sad?" She did really well, didn't seem to be too scared.

Live.Love.Eat said...

I am SO sorry about your sister and Dad. Knock on wood, we have not had to deal with any deaths in the family except for natural old age. Sadly, it's only a matter of time.

Jeanne said...

When my daughter was 10, we lost her 25-year-old uncle to cancer, and then, six weeks later, her grandfather to a sudden heart attack. It's a difficult time for the whole family, but it's also a chance to grow closer.

jubilee said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on such a difficult subject. I appreciate your insight and thoughtfulness.

angie said...

Wonderful post.

Tiffany said...

Such a great post. Helping kids cope and giving them a "healthy" view of death can make all the difference.

BoufMom9 said...

What a beautiful, thoughtful and informative post. Thank you so much for posting this.
~ debi

popping over from SITS

Katy Lin :) said...

this was such a great post! i don't think any of us can truly be prepared to deal with deat - or the way it affects us and our loved ones, but i love all of your practical advice. praise the Lord that we do not have to grieve like those who have no hope, amen?

:)

Michelle said...

I'm so sorry for so many losses so quickly and so suddenly. I hope those days are at an end for you. I'm glad that you've found a way to rejoice in the memories of your family members rather than grieving in a negative way. What great ideas though! I just hope I don't need to implement them for years and years.

CoffeeJitters.Net (Judy Haley) said...

I've heard of people having the kids write a letter to the person that passed away and then getting a helium balloon and sending the letter to heaven as a way to say good bye.