Death and loss in a family would have to be one of the hardest events that you as a parent will have to deal with. Especially if the grief and pain your are feeling is incomprehensible to yourself, let alone for your children.
There has been much debate about whether this loss should be openely discussed with children, especially if they are younger.
A debate that my x-husband and myself have endlessly discussed, with each passing loved one. He is soundly of the opinion, the children should be protected and removed from the saddness of the event, This statement is relative to the fact, at this point in time he has lost no one, nor that he has any cultural requirements through the mourning process.
My children and I are Aboriginal. Therefore for us, death, the dead, the spirits and the whole sorry business process is important to us. We celebrate as well as mourn our dead, as do many cultures, and in doing this, our children are always involved.
There is no easy way to sit someone down and tell them that the person they may have given a hug yesterday to, will no longer be coming to visit. It is even harder when the person you are telling, can not quite understand the concept of goodbye, no more, gone and forever. But most of all, it is seemingly impossible to support and comfort when at the time you need support and comfort.
So what do you do?
Everychild is different, every death is different, every connection your child has with the person who has passed on is different. But I have found that there are a few key things that will make it easier for you to deal with this situation.
If you can - Prepare the child in advance.
For most of us, our time to say goodbye is an unknown date and time. But for some, the very nature of our illness, the terminal nature of our condition allows time for Goodbyes. If this is the case, do not hide it from your children. Talk openly about the condition or illness, treatment and the risks involved. Even if they are young, it will be amazing what a child will retain, and subconsciously already start preparing themselves for.
The worst thing you can do is hide the truth. Children have a unique ability to comprehend things we can only marvel at. Being untruthful about the situation will only cause issues later. If you are asked "Is Grandma going to die?" what would you say? Even if you know your mum was going to pass within a few months.
My advice is don't lie. If you don't know, say so. But if you do, have faith that your child will digest this news appropriately. Let them have their cry. Encourage them to spend quality time with the loved one building special memories. Illness is confronting for a child. If they show that visiting (especially in later stages) is proving stressful for the child, dont make them. Alternatively they can keep in touch by drawings, notes or video messages.
Breaking the News
1. Digest the News First
This news will always be a shock to you. No matter how many months youve had to prepare if it is expected, or the sudden agnosing pain of sudden loss. You need to have your initial grief first. Cry and scream, jump up and down, curse at the injustice - have your time to digest the news and manage your own shock first.
2. Get Support
This is your tough reality time too. Not only will you have the pain and grief to deal with, for many there will be funeral arrangments to be made and all manner of things to sort out. Life goes on, you will still have washing, housework, a job, meals to cook, animals to look after and children to care for. You need to grieve and allow your children time tio grieve. Call on your support network. Family, friends and neighbours and put up your hand for help. Ask them to cook, clean and run errands for you while you spend time with your children.
3. Break the News in a Timely Manner
Do not delay the inevitable. Delaying telling the children will not change the situation, but it will decrease the chances that the children will over hear or discover the news through another means. This will create many issues. I am not suggesting to waike your 8 year old daughter at 3 in the morning to tell them, however, once she has risen and had breakfast it is time for that conversation. Even if she doesnt quite know, she will have picked up on the vibrations around her. Inside she is already preparing herself.
4. Allow for the fall out.
Everyone reacts differently. I have 3 children, 1 will retreat and lock themselves away for hours crying, 1 will start screaming and throwing things and 1 just takes off to be with friends. You know your childrens personailities. Allow them to have their instant time of craziness. It sholdn't last long if you give them the support. Watch for continued uncharacteristic behaviour however, and seek medical advice if you are concerned or the child appears to be depressed or not coping.
Stick as best as you can to the same routine you always follow. Allow the children to go to school, sport events and social gatherings if they feel up to it. ensure that the appropraite people are advised so that support can be provided if your child needs it. Routine is especially important for children that can not make sense as to why things happen and why this thing had happened.
Talk openly about everything your child wants to talk about. Try and answer questions that have been asked, and if you don'y know, then admit you do not. Encourage your child to look at old photos or videos and spend time laughing and crying together. Ask your child if they perhaps would like to write to the person, especially if they have not had a chance to say goodbye. If you are able, they may wish to place this letter in the coffin.
7. Allow them to Say Goodbye if able.
If your child wants to, and there is a viewing, allow them to say goodbye. They may want to place special items or letters/photos in the coffin, say hello and even give the person a kiss goodbye. If this is not part of your culture, the goodbyes can be done later at the cemetry or in a private ceronmony. Do not be surprised, if the goodbye does not occur until later, your children will indicate when this is going happen.
8. Be Open and Honest about your feelings.
Don't lie about how you are feeling. if you need to cry, then cry. You will go through the stages of grief, allow your children to see that this is quite normal and will soon pass.
Seek medical help if either yourself or your children have prolonged periods of sadness that may be leading to deeper complaints such as depression.
Don't expect your children to act like you do about this loss. Some children will deal with it better than others, seem quite oblivious to the tragic event or sadness around, and may even appear angry at everyones attention on this situation. Remember, this may be their way of coping. If their behaviour concerns or upsets you be honest with them.
No one can prepare you for the Goodbye. To a child the Goodbye could be a flitter of a memory in the future or still be a gaping hole in their lives. Children however are human beings, that should be respected and trusted with the truth. be honest and open, be supportive and loving. If you involve them from the start, you all can grieve together - holding each others hands and being strong.