My kids have recently lost two adoring great grandparents. It hit our family hard and everyone is still mourning.
Working in a bereavement support group, I help children process death, put words to their feelings and learn healthy ways to cope.
Death is a very abstract concept, so explaining it to my five-year old, who is a concrete thinker is challenging. My two-year old is also still too young to understand the permanence of it, but we include him in the conversations and activities.
Children express their emotions through different modalities; play, creative arts, body language. I decided to give my kids the opportunity to create something for their great grandfathers as a final goodbye project. Here is the artwork from their most recent loss.
They made handprints and pictures.
These pictures were placed in the casket, along with photos and letters.
My five-year old was really into his sticker art and later explained what it all symbolized.
“The heart is for love”
“The cross is because he died”
“The skull is because Pop is dead”
These were all his words and I was blown away. I really didn’t know how much he was understanding, but it was obvious that he was putting it all together. Just to give you a little background, the boys were baptized in May and this was the second death in the past 3 months. It was all clicking for him.
My son initiates conversations about death and dying all the time. I am open to answering his questions and helping him understand it.
Tips to help your kids:
It really doesn’t matter what type of belief system you have. Giving children the opportunity to express their emotions through creative arts, play, books and conversation will help them process their experience.
You can continue to honor your loved one by sharing stories, looking at photos, watching home videos, or creating new traditions in celebrating their life (release of balloons, family gathering, trip).