Grandparents. We call them Pop-Pop, Grammie, Abuela, Bubbe, or many other pet names we have created to distinguish them from our other family members. They run the gamut from indulgent to strict, but for most of us, our grandparents define unconditional love. “If Mom says no, ask Grandma,” advises a common toddler tee shirt. We even honor them annually with Grandparents Day (the first Sunday after Labor Day, so 9/11/22 this year).
In the cycle of life, the passing of beloved grandparents is often a child’s first experience with death. Find a quite place to sit with the youngster and explain in age-appropriate terms that your loved one has died. Avoid euphemisms; being told someone is “lost” might scare a preschooler. Help them understand that death is permanent, that Papa will not return. Talk about how his body will be buried or cremated. Invite the child to join the family at the wake, funeral, or memorial service, but do not force them to go. If they accompany you, recruit a trusted babysitter or other favorite caregiver to stand by in case the youngster tires or wants to leave. Assure them that it is normal to be sad, that others will share their sadness, and that it helps to share memories to ease their grief. https://childmind.org/guide/helping-children-cope-with-grief/
* Each child matures uniquely at their own pace. Still, consider the age of the grandchild to understand how they will view the death. Toddlers don’t understand that death is permanent and expect PopPop to come back. Their behavior might regress and they might become clingy.
* Those aged 6 to 11 begin to understand that death is forever and may begin to fear that other loved ones will die, too. They may experience nightmares or act out. With all of these youngsters, listen to them, be honest, reassure them they did not cause the death, and give them time to grieve.
* Adolescents want more details about the death and its rituals. They are more logical. They will watch others to figure out the “right” way to grieve. They may prefer to share their feelings with close friends rather than family members. Encourage them to talk about the grandparent.
As you help your child cope with the death, remember to take care of yourself—which is easy to say, hard to do, and bears repeating. Share your grief with your child and the rest of the family. Ask questions to bring out memories of good times. Frame a favorite snapshot of the grandparent and the youngster for them to carry around. Have them write about their Abuela or draw pictures of things they enjoyed doing together. That is how healing begins.
Do reach out for professional help if the child’s grief seems overwhelming and interferes with daily life. People grieve at their own rate, and there is no date at which “everything should be back to normal.” Ask your local children’s librarian to recommend some of the excellent books about grieving a grandparent. Raynor and D’Andrea Funeral Home has a wealth of information on handling grief in many circumstances. Click on https://www.raynordandrea.com/grief-support to get started.
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