In case you were wondering why I didn’t blog for a few weeks, I lost my dad last week. It’s been a painful time for my family, but I wanted to share some of my learnings about how I discussed this with my eight-year-old and my almost four-year-old. Discussing their grandparent’s death is hard.
What has been probably the hardest thing for my kids to understand is just how fast everything happened. And if I’m being honest with myself, I’m also coming to grips with how quickly my dad declined (we had about five weeks from diagnosis). Even though many of us think we are immune to loss or that we have some control, the real truth is that any of our loved ones can be gone from our lives at any time. That’s extremely hard to understand, especially for children.
Have you worked at a school that experienced loss? One year I worked at a school that experienced a lot of loss (mostly related to family and friends of the staff). Or perhaps students lost pets and feel upset during speech. Here are some ways for you to talk to your children, and potentially students at school, who are going through a period of grief.
Keep it simple
I didn’t elaborate when I talked about my dad’s illness with my children, especially my youngest. “Grandpa was sick and went to the hospital.” There’s no need to go into any more details. Make it clear that that the person is ill and not around and leave it at that.
Keep it short
Make sure you don’t go into lengthy discussions. Kids’ comprehension of oral information can be limited when there’s a lot of technical words. For example if a teacher was on a medical leave you could say, “Mrs. Jones is going to her doctor a lot and so she has to be out of school for couple weeks.” Most kids accept a statement like that at face value and won’t ask more questions.
Be honest and factual
I find that it’s very important not to lie to the kids. First, they pick up on it and they know that something maybe bigger is happening. It’s better to say that somebody is sick then to say they’re fine and just not around because dishonesty undermines your relationship with your children or students. Trust is essential.
Don’t be subtle
It’s important to be sure that you communicate using concrete words with kids. My husband said he told my son something, but it turned out he didn’t know because my husband was extremely subtle with him.
Allow kids to grieve
Just like people, many kids grieve in different ways. For example, some kids cry and then they’re over it. While other kids don’t feel emotional until much later or at random times. There’s no right way to grieve.
Use reflective statements
It’s so important for kids to know they are being heard when there is a loss. For example, “I know you are sad that Mrs. Garcia is not here right now. I know you love her.”
Be open to questions and talking
It’s important to tell kids who are grieving that you are there to answer any questions. And tell them it’s okay to talk about the loved one at any time. That way they feel like talking about death isn’t weird or taboo.
Do something special
Order an inscribed stone to be placed at a park district or library building with your loved ones name. Do something they would do with their grandparent, like go to their favorite restaurant.
I know I’m still in a state of shock about the passing of my father. Thankfully, my kids help distract me with how much joy they carry with them. I think my kids are adjusting well, making cute comments like “At least I got to go fishing with Grandpa.” I love them for it. Thank you for your patience with me as I move through this time and come to grips with my “new normal.”