Advice on How/when to Talk to Daughter About Death of Great Grandmother

Updated on March 20, 2010
J.B. asks from Miles City, MT
12 answers

My daughter is 4 yrs old ( will be 5 in July) and her Great Grandmother who is 89 is in the hospital and not expected to recover. She has become very close to her and we talked about how very sick Great Grandma is before we visited her in the hospital and my daughter is very concerned about her and wants to keep visiting her to "check up on her", etc. I need some advice on how to discuss the death issue with her. Should we talk to her about it before she passes so she can expect it? Or should we wait until after she passes and then talk to her about it? In either case, What do I say? The only death we have had to deal with since she has been old enough to know what is going on, was this past summer when our dog died. In that case, we told her that the dog, went to heaven with God and is our angel dog now, She cried on and off for a couple of days and then was fine, but she stills talks about her and asks about her and says she misses her. I am thinking that the death of a Grandparent is a little more of a big deal to deal with and want to have a better way to discuss it with her. Any ideas or experiences would be appreciated!!
Thank you so much!!

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So What Happened?

Thank you all for the great info!! I did talk to her about it, and told her that Grandma was really sick and was not going to leave the hospital. And that she would most likely die soon. That her body was old and tired. When she dies we will bury her body like we did Echo (our dog) and that her spirit will go to heaven with God. Her response was that, God will give Grandma a new Angel body to live in heaven with Him and Echo, and that she will always be with us. I then told her that it is ok to be sad and that if she has any questions to ask. I was amazed at her wisdom! Again, Thank you all for the kind thoughts and information !!

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answers from Minneapolis on

I'm sorry to hear of your grandmother's condition. To a little kid, the death of a dog might be as big of a deal as a person (of course, my teacher thought I had a brother named Alex, but it was just our dog who was my best friend until I was about 6 and started having human friends). Talking in advance is a good way to introduce the idea so it isn't such a sudden loss. Some of the suggestions I've heard are stating that our bodies break like sometimes a toy breaks and can't be fixed. Or that people are like eggs, sometimes the shells break, but the part that really matters, the inside lives on in heaven. We're going through this with my step-mom having cancer and I think it will be easier on my 3 3/4 year old because we've talked about death before (we have pictures around the house of my sister and father-in-law who've died and talk openly about them).

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Nana Upstairs etc. is one of my favorite books. It's worth reading to make your daughter more familiar with the concept, but it won't lessen the sadness.
I think you should definitely try to prepare her for her g-grandmother's passing by saying that she's not going to be with "us" for much longer etc. It's very hard to see a child grieve but there's really no way to avoid it; just let her know that everyone feels like this and be there for her.

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answers from Austin on

Do not underestimate your child, she will understand and be sad, but what will really upset her is how you and your family respond. Prepare her that you may need to cry, but that you are going to be fine. Let he know you will probably need some extra hugs, will she help you?

Books will be helpful here are some that I used with our child at this age.

Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen (pets, friends and relatives)
Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs by Tomie DePaola (grandmother)
Old Pig by Margaret Wild (grandma)

Let her know that Great Gran is very ill and being cared for, but that she is also very old. Older people have bodies that get tired easier and they also do not always heal, like young people. If you all are religious, mention that GG is looking forward to go to heaven to be with the Lord and with her own GG that is waiting for her..

Our daughter was always involved with funerals, wakes, illnesses. She knew it was all going to be ok. She was even with me as we witnessed her Great Grandmother take her last breath and die. We both felt it was an honor. Our daughter was not scared or upset..

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Death is such a natural outcome of life that it does our children a disservice to try to shield them from it. Sadness, loss and grieving are part of life, too, and if handled well, they become simply part of a very rich life experience.

The idea of taking turns can be helpful. When my nearly-4yo grandson's GG died recently, I told him that she loved being with him. But everybody gets a turn at life, and when our turn is up, we die so that new babies and children will get their turn. For most of us, our turn will be over when we are very old and tired and achy, and have no energy to enjoy our lives any more. Then our bodies quit so we can rest.

Whether or not you want to teach your daughter that there's a heaven, you can tell her about the spirit and memories of her GG that will always stay available to her. The part of her GG that your child loved best, the loving, wise, kind, playful part, will go on living in her and in her memories.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

About a month ago my 6 year-old neice also had to go through the loss of her grandmother. Her grandmother was moved to hospice towards the end of her battle with lung cancer. We all tried speaking to her about death being part of life, etc. but it was my 6 year-old neice's response afterwards that made it easier for all of us and reassured us she was doing ok with things.
My neice has always been into insects and animals. When we asked what she thought was happening to her grandmother, she explained it this way....
She believed that her grandmother was like a catepillar, and with the cancer she had to go into her cocoon to fight it. She said that when she died, she left her cocoon body and became a beautiful butterfly.
Not bad for a 6 year-old! I think she made us all feel better about things.
I hope this helps.

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answers from Denver on

I have an "always honest" policy on these types of things. My daughter is 3 1/2 and we have talked about dying and going to heaven already. Since it seems every Disney movie involves someone dying at some point, I have used this as a conversation starter. She is comforted that Heaven is a great place where you get to be with God and she likes to talk about what might be in Heaven like lots of mac and cheese! If you talk to her now, she will be more prepared when it happens. It may give her a chance to say her own goodbye by making an extra special card or picking flowers for Grandma.

Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Provo on

we just dealt with this on monday. my grandmother showed indications of being very close to death so my kids (6, 4, and 18 months) and i visited her monday afternoon and she died monday night. it was the first time i have ever been able to "say goodbye" to someone who was dying. it was very peaceful for me, but i worried about how my kids would handle it. before we went to visit her, i simply said, "grandma's body is getting sicker and ready to die. everyone dies. it's part of life. her spirit will go to live with Heavenly Father so she will be happy. but it's sometimes sad for other people when someone dies because they miss that person. we're going to visit her as much as we can before she dies." in the car on the way, we passed a cemetery and my mom asked the kids, "what happens at a cemetery?" "zombies" was my 4 yr old's answer! so we had a discussion about zombies not being real and how cemeteries are where the body is buried while the spirit goes to heaven. we mentioned that on the "resurrection day" grandma will have a brand new body.
the next morning i told the kids that grandma had died and i basically restated things i'd told them the day before about where her spirit and body go. they just seemed to be surprised. when i told them we'd be going to her funeral they wanted to know if it would be like a party and decided they would rather not go if there were no games or food. but i'm going to take them anyway. i'm going to tell them that a funeral is a place to be reverent, like church. i also explained that at the funeral there may be people crying because they miss grandma, but that she is ok because she is with Heavenly Father, and that those crying people will be ok too. I had to keep my explanations pretty short because of my 4 yr old's attention span, so i made sure to ask if they had any questions. good luck!

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answers from Salt Lake City on

I'm so sorry to hear of your grandmother passing soon! That is always hard, even when it is expected!! You are on the right path I think with your daughter. She has already experienced a death in the family (yes family dogs are VERY important) and she has a good foundation there. I would talk to her about it before, personally. Our oldest daughter experienced the deaths of many in our family and even some of our close friends (when we were in our 20s!) and we found it best to keep the conversation about the deaths on her level, and be open to talk about it when she was and let her take the lead on the questions. Don't say too much (which is easier said than done) but don't leave her in the dark about things. You'll do great. You've already done the dog thing, and there is a family connection there as well as with Great-grandma. She'll miss her, but she will be able to see her again, just like the dog! She will miss her grandma though, and she's older now, so the missing will be more tangible. It will be okay. You'll be okay and she'll be okay. :) Hugs!!!!


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answers from Colorado Springs on

Sorry so late with this, but try and/or see if your library has some books on with the subject (like The Fall of Freddie the Leaf). We are dealing with this a bit at our house with our 4-yr old. Good luck to you, and I am sorry for your grief.

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answers from Denver on

My grandmother died when my son was 4 too, and we were close to her and had visited a lot in the nursing home with my son. I did explain what was happening, but kept it very simple.

I just explained to him that Great-Grandma was very old and was going to die. I emphasized the point that people don't die until they are very old - he didn't ask any other questions about how to tell when someone was old enough to die, so I just left it at that. I also told him that when she died she would go to heaven, where we wouldn't be able to see her anymore, but we could talk to her anytime and she would hear us. He was very sad when she passed (as we all were), but he handled it ok.

And, I was very impressed later that year when a friend of his mentioned his grandpa was dead, and my son told him not to worry because his grandpa was in heaven and could still see him and hear what he was saying. And, my son did want to talk to his Great-Grandma for awhile after her passing, and would check with us periodically to make sure she was really in heaven and could see and hear him.

He actually handled her death better than the death of our pet rat earlier that year, and I think it's because we told him what was happening and what to expect.

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answers from Denver on

It is never an easy situation to deal with at any age. Be ready for any questions they may have and be ready to give lots of hugs and reassure them that other people they love (esp. parents) will be around to take care of them.

Here is a book I used when I was teaching preschool to help give children answers to questions. "Heaven is a Wonderful Place" by Joanne Marxhausen. I hope it helps.

Here is the link to the book so you can see the cover and get more info if you are interested. is a wonderful place

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answers from Grand Junction on

i went through this with my oldest in february when my hubby's grand father died. i kept it very straight forward. i told her, she's five, that daddy's grandpa was very sick, and when your that sick it takes a lot of work for your heart to keep your body healthy, i explained how the heart pumped blood through the body and to the rest of the bodies organs and that's why you feel the thump thump thump when you puy your hand on your chest. i told her that because great-grandpa was very sick his heart had to work too hard and that it was too much for his heart and he died. i told her his heart stopped working because it was sick too and just couldn't work anymore. she's very sensitive to others and their emotions and started crying. then suggested that someone just "make his heart go" again. i explained that after a heart stops working, it's very difficult to get it to work again and after a while you can't make it work again. we took her to the cemetary too and i explained that it was a special place where people go after they die, and that people can still go there to talk to them, but that they wouldn't talk back and you still wouldn't see them again. k
just be honest with your little girl, she'll understand. oh, i also told my daughter that this was a very big thing for her to try to understand, and that a lot of adults don't understand it, and if she had more questions to just ask. i kept things very straight-forward, as biologically scientific as possible, and stayed honest.. i'm sorry about your grandma, you and your daughter will be in my thoughts. good luck talking to her

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