Child bereavement: Four things one mum was glad about when her son faced grief

It's an inevitable fact that our children will face grief one day and, as with everything, It is our job as parents to do our best to prepare them for it.

One mum told us four things she was glad about when she and her eight-year-old son suffered their first major bereavement together, with the death of her father, her son's beloved granddad.

1. We'd already talked about death and dying


Whilst my son was quite young when his granddad died, we'd made a point of not shying away from the subject of death and dying in the past.

My inquisitive and curious son has always asked lots of questions about everything and we'd answered honestly. We'd told him the truth when, previously, he'd asked about burial and cremation, different religious beliefs, what happens to the dead, our own beliefs on that and why and when people die. We'd explained that death happens when the body stops working and usually it happens to older people, but not always.

It was such a relief not to have to start from scratch explaining all of this when he was relating it in his mind to his granddad. Children's understanding of death will be different at different ages but, as with most subjects, a drip feed of information is possible from early on, depending on how much individual children want or need to know.

2. We hadn't hidden his Granddad's frailty


Although no-one realised my father's death was imminent, he had suffered chronic illness for a number of years. He had a habit of bouncing back from severe ill health that others may not have survived. It meant there were a number of times during my son's life where Granddad was very ill and even hospitalised. When my son was very young in particular, it would have been easy to tell him 'Granddad is ill, but don't worry, the doctors are making him better.' It was never that straightforward and although it meant we couldn't always allay all his concerns we let him on the fact that Granddad was vulnerable. It meant when the end came, whilst the timing of it was unexpected, it wasn't a total shock.

3. We didn't hide our own grief


My father's death was quite sudden and, as we were abroad at the time, my son was in the room when I first heard it had happened. The shock and sadness were too much for me and I collapsed in tears, which I felt so guilty about even in the moment. I begged my husband, who was also with us, not to comfort me but to look after my son who had quickly pieced together what had happened. Initially I felt I'd had a moment of terrible parenting for failing to protect my son from witnessing my raw grief. I still wouldn't choose for it to have happened that way but it did and feeling bad about it won't change anything. I've chosen to take the positives from it in that my son knew it was fine to express his emotions over it all, it meant we were thrown straight into facing the news as a family unit and he knew I was sad too. We started talking about it all straight away and he knew nothing was off limits, even if it upset any of us. It's tough when you're trying to support your child as well as deal with your own feelings but there's lots of professional advice available for parents and carers supporting a bereaved child.

4. We made our own decisions on what was best regarding the funeral


Lots of people think children shouldn't go to funerals - that it'll be too upsetting, too frightening or too disturbing. I had a friend who ended up having counselling in later life because he was not allowed to attend his own grandfather's funeral as a child and felt he never got to say goodbye. As with all things to do with parenting, my view is that it's best to go with your own instinct, your knowledge of your child and to find out how they feel about it too.

If you and they decide it's best for them to attend, discuss it with the funeral directors you've appointed. Remember, they have a wealth of experience and can advise you on specifics you might want to consider. It may be tradition for close family to follow the hearse in a cavalcade but perhaps you may feel that would be too upsetting for your little one. Similarly, you may feel having the coffin on display during the service is just too explicit. You can consider alternatives that work for you and your child or take steps to prepare them for what to expect.

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