A week ago a dear friend of mine lost her husband of 39 years. He left behind a wife, three married daughters and six young grandchildren. When another friend and I went to visit he at her daughter’s home, we were greeted at the front door by a grandson approximately five years old. He immediately told us, “My grandpa died yesterday.” I assured him we knew that and we were there to tell them how sorry we were that their grandfather had died.
All my experience as a mother, grandmother, family elder and Hospice Nurse told me that that child’s immediate blurting out of the family tragedy was a good and brave thing to do for a boy his age.
Young kids can sense when something unusual is happening and they just need to know the truth of the matter. They may not need to know each and every detail but they do need the essence of the story. Otherwise their imaginations will have them convinced that something far worse is actually happening and it is also probably their fault.
Young children, especially, need to know the basic facts of the situation, what happened and what, if anything, can be fixed. They need the assurance that someone is still in charge, that the adults can still be relied upon and that the routines will continue, for the most part.
When a death occurs in the family, the children will usually heal about as well as the adults. That doesn’t mean there won’t be sadness or crying or lots of remembering. The little ones learn from the elders how to deal with tragedy and grief. They need to realize that immense sadness is handleable and survivable. The only way is to model the actions of the adults.