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.