Talking to children about loss

It’s been a rough couple of months at MIP HQ – I started April with 3 Grandparents and finished up May with only 1 remaining.

My grandparents have always been a solid feature in my life – when my Grandad passed 10 years ago it was a hard hit and foolishly I expected that I would somehow be prepared better in the future from it. I wasn’t.

My Nan left us in April and leaves a gap in all our lives – she was a figurehead, a matriarch and a woman greatly frustrated by the fact her body just couldn’t keep up with her anymore. She had been ill for sometime so when the news came she had died I expected to be prepared but I wasn’t – I felt empty and in shock. Her funeral was tough but it was a beautiful service with some warm moments.

My Grandpa or Grandpa Fish (a whole other story behind that name) as he was know to Miss MIP, died in May and I can’t even type that without crying. I was very close to my Grandpa and both him and my Nan have been linchpins in my life for a number of years. I’ll pop in for a cup of tea, we will talk on messenger and Miss MIP just adores them both. They do gardening with her, play with her and she gets very excited to go and see them. The funeral was last week but I don’t feel the sense of closure that I did with my Nan’s funeral – I’ve still got tears left to cry and I’m not ready to let go of him yet.

Miss MIP is five years old and to lose two prominent figures in her life in two months is incomprehensible for her. The first thing we did was take her to see my Nan who is alive and well to visually prove that she was ok. She keeps talking about family being taken away from her – she even asked once if they left because they didn’t want to see her anymore. Utterly heartbreaking.

I’ve learnt that with children you need to be much more brutal with your words when explaining death. You can’t say they’ve gone away or that they’ve gone somewhere else because they will just ask to go and see them there instead. You have to be very clear in your wording that the person has died and they aren’t coming back. This was very hard for me to say and thank goodness for Mr MIP who was around to help with those difficult conversations.

Children will have so many questions but they may be wary of asking you – especially if they see it upsets you so you need to make sure you have a support system in place for them. I informed the school of our loss, her Rainbows leader and some friends as well so they could all be braced for her upset and questions.

And boy did she have some questions – where were they now, were they in the ground or in a box, did they go to heaven, will they be an animal instead now, what happens to someone’s body when they die, do they get to wear clothes still and my all time favorite – does someone else get to have their hearts now. All of these questions show how much she observes from the world around her and how much she absorbs. We answered them as best we could in a respectful manner but once the floodgates open on questions they will just keep coming so be prepared for that. I didn’t mind though – I’d rather she felt she could ask than didn’t and made up things in her head that could be much more scary than the truth.

Where they are now is the hard one for us. We aren’t a religious family but if when she is older she finds faith then I want her to know that that is ok and as a family we can be accepting. I don’t want to tell her there isn’t a heaven as she needs to form her own thoughts on it and being a person who doesn’t have faith that seems like using religion as an easy way out. Instead we talked about how some people believe in heaven, some people believe in reincarnation, some people believe that your mind or soul is transferred to another being and some people, like us, believe that nothing happens when you die but you preserve the memories of your loved ones by remembering them, talking about them and keeping them in your thoughts with fondness.

Miss MIP is only 5 and she probably won’t remember her Nanny and Grandpa when she grows up. It’s our job to keep them in her memory with thoughts, photos and stories. I’ll never forget them and the importance they played in my life so they’ll continue to live through me.

It’s another parenting lesson for us though – one that I’d rather not have but I think it’s important for children to understand that death is a normal part of life. Not something to be afraid of but just to be aware of.

Miss MIP is very clingy at the moment and needs a lot of reassurance and I think that’s natural as well – at the moment I really don’t mind all the extra hugs either. Hopefully through our tactics of being clear about what’s happened, encouraging questions, putting in place a support network for her and expecting the need for extra cuddles will help though.

Time is a great healer and we’ll all eventually get back on our normal paths but we’ll make sure that our loved ones are never forgotten. They remain with us in our hearts, memories and stories we tell.

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