When a grandparent dies

When a grandparent dies
Losing a grandparent is often a child’s first experience with the death of a loved one.

Losing a grandparent is often a child’s first experience with the death of a loved one. Even if she’s still just a baby and doesn’t understand what’s happening, the child can sense the sadness and stress in her surroundings. She may react by crying or whining more, eating less, sleeping poorly, etc. “Your child needs reassurance,” says Lynne Pion, conference speaker and author of the children’s book Est-ce que tout le monde meurt? (Does everybody die?). “You need to hold her, cuddle her, tell her that you’re sad because grandpa died. Even if she doesn’t understand the words, she’ll feel comforted.” It also helps to stick to her normal routine as much as possible during these times.

Between 3 to 5 years old, children have a limited understanding of death. Even if they know that the heart of the person who died no longer beats and that this person can no longer hear or speak, the finality of death is beyond them. They think it can be reversed and that grandpa will come to see them tomorrow. The best thing is simply to tell them that when a person dies, it’s forever and that that person doesn’t come back. But also insist that they can think of that person whenever they want and remember the happy times.

“My role as grandmother is to love my grandchildren, play with them and teach them things.”
-France Daoust

Also, pay attention to the words you use. “If you tell your child that her grandfather died because he was very sick, she may think he had a cold,” says Pion. She may then be afraid of dying too or that you will die for a similar reason. The same applies if you tell her that grandpa has fallen asleep forever (she’ll be afraid of sleeping) or that he left on a long trip (she’ll wait for him to come back or become anxious when a loved one travels). It’s better to tell the truth using simple words: “Grandpa had cancer. It’s a serious illness. Sometimes people get better, but not always.” It’s also important to reassure her that death isn’t contagious.

Should your child attend the funeral rituals? That depends on your personal family values. Author Lynne Pion thinks it’s a good idea. “It will help your child better understand death, and she will be able to say goodbye to the person who has passed away.” Death is a family milestone. “It’s important that the child be part of everything that surrounds the event, as she has a great need to feel a sense of belonging,” says Pion.

Remember

  • The attention your child gets from her grandparents makes her feel special and unique.
  • Grandparents pass on values as well as your family history and traditions.
  • To maintain harmonious relationships, grandparents shouldn’t interfere in parental decisions.