When my son was about six, one of those people with ‘grandmother’ status in our family died.
My husband and I had discussed previously that we would explain clearly but simply to him what had happened. Our son was already aquainted with the concept of death, since from the age of three he’d had tropical fish, and sadly through the poor advice we were initially given, and the short life span of some fish, by six years old he had discovered that fish don’t live for ever.
When I came home from supporting my Father at the end of the day that J died, my husband had broken the news of her death to our boy. We knew he would be devastated as she was full of fun and he delighted in the pony rides and mud in her fields he enjoyed when we visited regularly.
I came home with ‘Thingy’, a small toy that had been in J’s lounge and frequently been played with by our boy on our visits there. I explained that because J had died, and could no longer look after it, ‘Thingy’ was now his. It made J’s death a bit more real for him, which was obviously painful, but it meant that he understood why there was a need for us as a family to do more travelling and sorting than normal, and why everyone (especially Grandpa) was rather miserable and upset.
Although we decided it wasn’t appropriate for him to attend the short crematorium service (partly because of sensitivity to J’s relatives), he did attend the far more personal Thanksgiving Service that was held at a week or so later, with the familiar things he knew (her saddle, riding boots and garden flowers) clearly visible along side the wicker urn which held her ashes. We were able to share together our collective grief, and the strain of my role in the service (a reading), as being perfectly normal, rather than something hidden or secret.
I was reminded of all this by a recent conversation with a grieving family who needed to encourage their grandson to explain to the four year old great-grandson, the death of a much loved, and talented, grandparent. It also sent me back to find various resources I’ve been made aware of over the years that can help children, and adults, to cope with their grief at the death of a loved one. I’m really collecting them here as an aide memoire for my own future reference, but thought it might help others too.
I found some good advice at Dragonflypin.co.uk. Here there are also other resources for helping children and adults of different ages as well. In particular I have come across the following two story books which are good:
- Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley
- Water Bugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney, which I was given many years ago (but have since given away when someone else needed it!)
There is also a good leaflet to support adults helping children when someone has died. It’s produced by Mothers’ Union called ‘Children and Bereavement’ and is available direct or through local members in the community in which you live. It includes other ideas for remembering a loved one, and some contact details for different support groups.