Do you have any resources (websites, blogs) that you would recommend that focus on a death in the family for preschoolers/toddlers. I'm at a loss for how to communicate it to her, if we do at all given she is so young , how to explain why everyone is so sad, etc. if you have any ideas of sites to direct us to, I'd appreciate it.
I'm not sure whether to even bring her to the hospital or not. What to tell her after? How to answer all of her questions so trying to get ahead of it? Any suggestions you have are really appreciated.
I am so sorry to hear that you are likely going to lose your father. Losing a parent is one the of biggest losses that we all unfortunately have to experience. I lost my dad somewhat unexpectedly from a heart attack when I was in grad school and it was certainly a huge moment for me. I didn’t have a perfect relationship with him and I was devastated that we had drifted apart and we would never be able to have the opportunity to repair the relationship, that he’d never see me get married, and he’d never meet his future grandkids. Sometimes I still get sad about not being able to hear is long winded lectures and have a heated debate about politics with him. And we had a strained relationship. I know the depth of your sadness and grief will be palpable now and when he eventually passes.
I think that there is no way for your child to be kept in the dark. I think she will feel all of your pain, experience confusion of all the different experiences, and I think she is old enough and has enough sense at her age to be told in simple words what is happening. I think the best approach is to be honest about what is happening both about your own feelings as well as what is happening. You could say something like, “Grandpa is very sick and weak, and he isn’t going to live much longer. He won’t get better because he is old and his heart is damaged. We are all very sad and we are going to miss him very very much. Grandpa is my dad and I love him like you love your daddy. I will cry a lot because it’s very hard for me to not have my daddy anymore.”
Children are very perceptive and being honest will help your children feel less confused about what is happening. You can probably spare her the blow by blow updates because those are such a roller coaster and she won’t understand all the information and doctor lingo. It would be good to listen to her questions and responses and answer them directly and simply.
She may feel “inappropriately” or say things that don’t make sense or even seem wrong (like sometimes people are angry when someone dies and don’t know what to , but I think that it’s best to answer comments like that by saying something like “I see you are feeling a lot of things. We all are. I am here for you if you need me.”
Perhaps if you are really emotional and falling apart, that may be overwhelming for her, or get stressed and snappy. So perhaps if that’s happening your spouse can explain how you (or someone else) are feeling or you can later in a calm moment let her know that you were snappy because you are very sad and feeling hurt. You didn’t mean to get upset and you’re sorry. We’re all only human and the more important part is to just awknowledge our mistakes or weak moments and apologize to clear the air and make sure she knows she is loved and nothing is her fault.
From Janet Lansbury's blog:
Here are six guidelines from John W. James’ book When Children Grieve: For Adults to Help Children Deal with Death, Divorce, Pet Loss, Moving, and Other Losses. I can’t recommend this book highly enough…
Listen with your heart, not your head. Allow all emotions to be expressed, without judgment, criticism, or analysis.
Recognize that grief is emotional, not intellectual. Avoid the trap of asking your child what is wrong, for he or she will automatically say, “Nothing.”
Adults – go first. Telling the truth about your own grief will make your child feel safe in opening up about his or her own feelings.
Remember that each of your children is unique and has a unique relationship to the loss event.
Be patient. Don’t force your child to talk.
Never say “Don’t feel sad” or “Don’t feel scared.” Sadness and fear, the two most common feelings attached to loss of any kind, are essential to being human.
About going to the hospital to see him, maybe you can give her a choice. Since so many things are new to her, I actually don’t think she will know to be scared. Adults are more scared of hospitals and death because they know more about it. She may want to see him and say good bye and he may want to see her. But if she doesn’t want to go, maybe that’s better too. Unlike an adult she won’t spend her life regretting that she made the choice not to go. I think if Paul’s dad or mom were ill, I would take Noelle because I think it takes some of the mystery out. But I like the idea of a choice. However, I’d probably bring someone with who could leave with her when she needed so that she didn’t become stressful. Hospitals are the best environments for kids to hang out in for a long time.
My heart is with you and your family! I know that this will be a difficult time. However, in death there is an opportunity to come together as a family, to celebrate the wonderful life and memories you had together and to reflect on the many gifts we have been given by being part of each other’s lives. Let me know if I can do anything to help. I don’t have any death books here, but I would be more than happy to amazon prime some to you if you send me your address there.
Some book recommendations - I can go through them and pick some I think are best, but most of these should be appropriate for ages 3 and up.
I’ll Always Love You, a tear-jerker (as if you needed one) about a boy dealing with the death of the family dog.
What Happens When A Loved One Dies? Our First Talk About Death
When Children Grieve and The Grief Recovery Handbook (for adults), both by John James and Russell P. Friedman, provide excellent roadmaps for understanding grief and processing it in the healthiest, most productive manner possible. Their recommendations reflect all I’ve learned about healthy social emotional development through infant specialist Magda Gerber. The gist of their message: We not only all have unique responses to loss — we respond to each loss uniquely. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, share them with your child, and give her the freedom and the time to process her unique feelings, too. Unfinished grief creates problems that can have a profound effect on our life.
Evelyn Nichols, M.Ed.