B.A. asks from Fairfield, CT on February 04, 2012
Helping 6 Year Old Cope with Her Grandmother's Death and Funeral
My mother-in-law passed away in her sleep last night. We broke the news to my 6 year old daughter this morning and needless to say she is taking it hard. She had seen her grandmother's health decline over the the past two years after getting colon cancer. She had surgery and the cancer was removed successfully, but she just never bounced back fully and had been in a steady decline since.
Over the past year or so my daughter had brought up questions about death and had asked if her grandma would die soon. I tried to address her questions in age appropriate way and I have never wanted to completely shield her from death since I want her to under stand it is the natural cycle of nature and not something to be feared.
My delima now is how much to expose her to regarding the wake and funeral. Right now I don't think that I want her to see the open casket, because I don't want her to have that memory of her grandmother in her head. I want her to remember her grandmother as she was in life. I also think that given my daughter's personality, it might be too traumatic for her. I do want her to experience the funeral cerimony though. Can anyone share their thoughts and expereinces on how to handle this and help my daughter in a way that is appropriate for her age?-Thanks!
So What Happened?™
Thanks so much everyone for all the responses and your condolences!! I hope they keep coming. Your stories are very moving and it has been very informative to hear other experiences. I have talked to my daughter about what the wake and funeral will be like and I let her know about viewing the body. I let her know that she can see her grandma if she wants, but that she may not look the same and that she will look like she is sleeping, but she won't wake up...She is aske me if the "Wake" meant she would "wake up".
I love all the ideas I've gotten from the responses and it has inspired a few of my own and has also gotten my daughter to think about things she could do, like something special that she might put in the casket to be burried with grandma or things that she can leave at the gravesite when she visits. I love the idea of writting a letter and tying it to a balloon. That would be a nice thing for our whole family to do as my husband is naturally having a hard time as well.
Thanks again everyone; you have all been so helpful.
Update: It has been a hard week for our family but we all made it through pretty well, considering. My 6 year old did really well at the wake and the funeral. She saw her grandma in the casket and handled it fine. She actually had more of an emotional response at the funeral and then after we got back to our home two days later. I think the finality of it all just sunk in for her.
Thanks to everyone's great advice, hopefully my daughter will not have any regrets, worries or fears surrounding her grandmother's death and funeral.
M.P. answers from New York on February 09, 2012
My fearful and sensitive daughter was 7 when my father died. There was no wake, but my mother made a special effort to have my daughter see him in his casket. The undertaker and my mother had been prepared him very well, so that he actually looked better than he had in the last weeks of his life. It was an enormous relief to my daughter when she saw him. And she mentioned some years later that she had been relieved to know what he looked like when he was dead.
D.G. answers from Dallas on February 04, 2012
This is hard. I was a little older when my grandmother died. I was very close to her and it was very hard. I do remember going to the viewing (with the family only) and seeing her. My dad was there with me and told me if I wanted to I could touch her hand. I did and it showed me that her body was just a shell - she wasn't there anymore. We talked about how she was in Heaven (we are Christians) and how her body was healed now and everything was ok. It was emotional but while I have that memory - my main memories are of the fun I had with her and the love she had.
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J.W. answers from St. Louis on February 04, 2012
Don't underestimate your daughter. It may be a memory of her grandma in the casket but it is only one of many memories.
When ever anyone mentions my grandma my first thought is rose bushes and her back yard, then gardening....only if you ask about her death does the memory of her lying in the casket even hit my conscious.
On the other hand I was no allowed to go to my grandpa's funeral because they worried about me seeing him in the casket. If you mention my grandpa my first memory is dropping my mom off at the funeral home. It will always be that lack of closure that is my memory of my grandpa. Pretty sad really.
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J.T. answers from Chicago on February 04, 2012
The first loss I experienced was when I was thirteen--obviously much older than your daughter. With that said, I had never experienced death before and was EXTREMELY emotional. I cried for 3 days straight. What truly brought me peace was when I touched his face at the wake. I was instantly at peace. I understood that "that" was not him laying there and that he was in heaven where he was no longer in pain.
Good luck to you, and I am very sorry for your loss.
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M.T. answers from Nashville on February 04, 2012
Sorry for your loss. My dad died a year ago and my son, about your daughters age was at school when it happened. The day before he was alive, happy, and playing with them and the next day, we had to tell my son he died. I didn't know how to break it to him. Nevertheless we could not shield him from the reality. He did not see him for the last time which I think made it worse. The only closure for him was at the grave side when he saw his grandpa going down in a hole. He was anxious to see in the sadness / curiosity of it all what was going to happen to him and then the questions started.
It is no harder for your daughter than it is for you, she will just be dealing with it differently. The simplest answer I gave to my son was that our bodies get old and sick sometimes and if it is broken it will sometimes stop working. Her grandma's body stopped working but she will remain alive in her heart. The concept of heaven will create more questions, even though it will help to feel like she is in a better place (of course that depends on her faith if she had one)
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K.G. answers from Fort Wayne on February 04, 2012
I was 9 when my grandma passed, I took it really hard. It took almost a year for me to really come to terms with it, I probably should have been in therapy for grief. My mom took me to the florist and I picked out a small pillow with flowers that went into her casket and I wrote a little letter for her that also went with her. Its been almost 30ys that she has gone and I still get teary eyed about her. I am thankful my mother let me go to her viewing and burial (sp). I too touched her hand and told her i loved her. My biggest reason for the grief was my mother never allowed me to see her the year before she passed, so when I found out it hit me hard, I had no idea she was going to pass. gl and allow her to be part of it death is nothing to be afraid of, and she will need closure.
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M.B. answers from Austin on February 04, 2012
First, I would be sure to tell her what goes on during a viewing and a funeral..... tell her (if you/her choose to go to the viewing) that she can look at grandma's body, but to remember, that it is just her body, and not her. I don't know how religious you are, but there might be ways to explain how her spirit, the part that REALLY made her what we knew and loved was no longer there.
Tell her that there may be some people that are crying, and it is ok to be sad and cry.... that other people miss her, also.
Be sure to tell her that some people may tell fun stories and memories about her, and that is how she would like to be remembered, by the good and fun things she did for people.
Explain what might go on at the service.... some singing, some prayers, and sometimes people tell things about her.
Maybe give her the option of going? Also.... if she goes, and wants to leave, be sure to tell her that is an option.
Will there be childcare at the funeral? If so, let her know that she can go to the childcare if she wants, even during the service.
Ultimately, though, you are the one that knows her best... follow her lead. When my father died in 1991, my kids were 9, 7 1/2, 5, and 6 weeks. We explained what would go on, and gave the kids the choice of going to the service. The 7 1/2 yr old didn't want to go to the service itself, and stayed in the childcare with the infant. My 9 and 5 yr old did go. The service was held at their church, and childcare was provided for anyone that wanted it.
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R.R. answers from Los Angeles on February 04, 2012
I am so sorry for your loss.
When my grandmother died I was also 6. My mother told me that morning and I then went to school. I talked with 2 of my cousins at school about it and we were sad. I wasn't allowed to go to the wake or funeral, they thought i was too young. I was used to seeing my grandmother a few times a week until she went into the hospital, where she was a month before she died, and I coped the best i knew how. I didn't ask questions and when my mother told me how beautiful my grandmother had been in her dress i got angry, I had decided that a "wake" meant she woke up and talked to everyone and I had missed out. When my mother told me the next day after the funeral that my father had cried at the cemetery (she had been his mother) I was surprised and thought, "Well at least HE got to talk to her last night." I didn't realize for a few years what a wake was, a viewing, and that my grandmother hadn't talked to anyone, but at least they all got to see her and I had missed out. It took me years to get over her death because I wasn't allowed to be a part of her services.
So I would be as open as possible with your daughter, explain what a wake is, how her grandmother will be in a casket but won't look the same as she had in life, that death is a part of life, and that her grandmother is no longer suffering. Explain what a funeral is as well, and give her the choice to participate as she chooses, she should be allowed to say goodbye in her own way.
BTW, my father is dying and my little guy will be 3 in April. He is very close to Tata and he will be at the services. Even if he doesn't remember much in the years to come, he will know that he got to say goodbye.
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S.B. answers from Redding on February 04, 2012
I'm so sorry for your loss.
I really think it all depends on the child. Only you know what would be best.
I was about the same age when my beloved grandmother passed away from cancer. She had been very ill and in numerous hospitals so although we prayed for her to get better, it wasn't a shock when she passed away. It was pretty hard to process though, as a child, that she wasn't ever coming back.
Being a child, we were only able to visit her briefly toward the end and she was in a great deal of pain so that part was pretty scary.
I will never forget, on the day of her funeral, my dad took me to the funeral home, just the two of us, so that I could see her. I remember thinking how pretty she looked. Her hair was done, she had lipstick on. She looked so peaceful. I hadn't seen her look that way in a long time. To me, it looked like she was just sleeping. I asked if it was okay to touch her and my dad said yes. He held me up so I could. Her hands felt so soft. I remember thinking that maybe if I prayed hard enough, she would wake up. But I knew deep down that she was gone.
My parents made the decision not to allow me to attend the funeral service, but I am so very glad that I got to say good bye to my grandmother. She and I were extremely close so in my case, my parents did the right thing for me.
My children attended the funerals of two of their grandparents. They handled it well.
It just really depends on the children.
If you think the service or viewing would be too traumatic, then make that decision. I think that the way some services are done, in which many people gather to celebrate the life of someone, it might make it easier. On the other hand, having a child present if there will be a lot of crying and sadness, it can be very upsetting.
Only you know what call to make in this situation.
For my kids, it helped to go back through pictures and talk about all the things they loved about their grandparents. People leave us physically, but they never leave our hearts and we can keep them alive in our memories.
I wish you the best and again, I'm sorry for your loss.
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