Papa and five-year-old Marissa spent Wednesdays together. They’d go to the park and always end their time with a story. Suddenly, Papa died, and Wednesdays will never be the same for Marissa. Her sadness and confusion worry her parents. How should they explain her grandfather’s unexpected death to her?
Parents can help ease the grief of children. First, don’t shield them from the funeral. Allow them to attend a portion of the event as suits their age. Give them a chance to be part of this closing chapter.
Be honest and use the correct language: “Papa has died.” Saying that he has gone on a long trip builds mistrust.
Talk to children about our beliefs concerning death. Telling them that we will all see each other again in heaven gives them a comforting message of hope. Invite them to imagine their deceased loved one saying, “I love it here! Someday I want you to be here with me.”
Encourage children to write a good-bye letter or draw a picture. Place these with the other remembrances at the funeral or even in the casket.
Children often fear that they will also die. Parents should stress that death is a natural part of life and that most of us will live a long time. Use other moments of death—stories in which a character dies or the death of a pet—as natural lead-ins to discussions of feelings and beliefs about death.
After a family death, it’s good to keep photos of the deceased and stories about them in the forefront. Let children know that it’s good to share our memories. There is wisdom in an Irish wake: The joy of remembrance heals grief.
Finally, a word of caution: If a child’s mourning seems prolonged or the child is morose, it’s time to involve psychological support. A more skilled professional may need to help the child cope with the loss.
Marissa still misses Papa very much. She put his picture on her dresser and talks to him about how she misses him, especially on Wednesdays. Mommy and Daddy are helping her to understand.
That makes her feel good inside. Daddy is sad too and says that whenever Marissa needs to snuggle or cry, he would love to hold her. Mommy says that Papa is with Jesus now and that heaven is a good place. Marissa feels like she has a Band-Aid on her broken heart, but soon she will be better.