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Advice about Death and Grieving
Questions about what death means
Death of a family member
My 3 year old daughter's grampa died. We live in CA, and he in FL. It happened a month ago, but because the memorial wont be held until November, she doesn't really know about his death.
I'm trying to think of a way to explain that her Pop-pops isn't there any more. I have read her ''Nana Upstairs and Downstairs'' but I still don't know when or how to tie this book into the fact that Pop-pops isn't there anymore and we are going to go to his ''memorial'' (he's been cremated already, so there is no body).
We are secular, so I want to explain that he is dead/gone in terms that make sense to a 3 yr old...He died. He's in our memories. He lives within us... Can a 3 yr old digest this...?
Would appreciate feedback from secular parents. - Mom whose child will be sad...
I didn't read him any books on the topic. I took the approach of just telling him what had happened. He knew she was sick as my husband traveled to see her a lot during the last few months. He reacted as I thought he might - suggesting that we bring her to the doctor, make her some healthy food, etc. He asked a few questions and I answered them as honestly and simply as possible. He mainly asked about what she could do when she was dead - can she eat, can she sleep, can she see me. He also asked if this meant grandpa was going to die and would he die now. I answered with simple, honest responses. The hardest question was, I know she is dead, but where is she? My father-in-law told him she wasn't on earth any more, but that now she gets to be a part of the whole universe. My son seemed to like that answer.
We are also secular, so religion, God, heaven didn't enter into my responses. He is still processing it and asks about her and her death every few days, so I think this will take him some time to really understand. He obviously is thinking about it, but he doesn't seem sad, per say. I don't think he knows really to be sad yet.
We just attended her memorial service last week (one month after her death) and explained to our son that we were going to a very important memorial where we would all talk about grandma, how much we love her and how we will miss her. I told him it was important for everyone who loved her. I think he understood. He sat at the memorial reading his books in the back row, not paying attention to anything around him, but was quiet and well behaved. The memorial was a ''celebration of life'' and the tone did reflect that, for the most part.
I'm not sure if my rambling has helped at all. Best of luck to you during this difficult time. Also dealing with the loss of a grandparent
My cousin's 8 year old son recently died in an accidental drowning. I need some advice as to how to tell my 4 year old about it. I don't intend on bringing it up myself, but I anticipate that eventually he will ask about Cousin Ryan, or someone else will bring up the subject. My son did not see his cousin regularly, but did see him once or twice a year and also has a lot of hand-me-down clothes that he knows as ''from cousin Ryan'', so it's more than just a name to him.
We've already talked about death with my son as his grandmother (my mother) passed away a year and a half ago, and we also talk about a pet that died. We've read books and my son also asks about the Beatles that died (he's on a real Beatles kick recently).
My biggest concern is that (to simplify things) when my son has previously asked things like ''when will I die? When will you die?'' we have assured him that most people only die when they get very old and sick, i.e. Mommy and Daddy will be around for a long time. I don't know how to talk about his cousin without scaring him senseless about it, when in fact it was a senseless and shocking death. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!
I personally think you SHOULD bring it up for your son first. That way you're sure he's getting it the way you want it conveyed. Also, then you'll know what he knows, and he'll be encouraged to talk about any questions he has with you.
As for his questions, about when he or you will die, this is hard, but again I think you have to be honest. Most people do die after a long life, when they get old and sick, but very rarely people die young, as Ryan did. But he shouldn't worry about himself or you, as what happened to Ryan is very rare.
You might find it useful to contact Meg Zweiback, as I did. I was so grateful to her for the age-appropriate advice she gave me at a very difficult time. anon
What advice to people have for explaining death to a toddler when for example a pet dies. In most situations I would like to explain what really happened, but I am concerned about the anxiety that could be caused by the realization that things don't live forever and the related fear that self and parents also don't live forever. So far she thinks dead things are going ni-night and I haven't corrected this. Anon
Even after eight months, my daughter, the 3-year-old (who was with Gramma right before she died and knew how happy Gramma was to see her), still pipes up with ''guess what Gramma Carol is dead'' announcements periodically out of the blue, but now she follows up with ''that's sad but she lives in our hearts.'' Her other variation is that sometimes she will say ''I'm sad that Gramma Carol died'' but now she remembers to add ''but I'm happy that Gramma Carol lived.'' As possible and appropriate, we try to focus on living, since that is an easier concept for the kids to grab. Our son does these variations as well, and again we have seen his focus move to the ''living'' part.
If we hadn't lost Gramma Carol, we couldn't have conceived of how to broach the subject of death and dying. I think it was ''easier'' since we could put it in a context that they could understand, and find something that let them focus on her life. I think the fact that the kids rightfully understand that their Gramma lives in their hearts makes the fact that she isn't there much easier for them to understand. And going through the process with them has actually been somewhat healing for me as well.
This is a very tough and sensitive subject. I wish you the best in finding a way that works for both you and your child. -- Cindy
We explained that at certain times, usually when people get very old or very badly hurt, their bodies stop working, as in they don't eat, drink, sleep, breathe, or poop any more. When someone gets very old and dies, it's a good thing because it gets harder to make your body work when you get older, and even though we're sad because they're not here anymore to talk to or hug, we can still think about them and remember them a lot. When someone gets 'broken' (badly hurt), it's just like a toy that gets broken as opposed to worn out. It still could work, but something happened to break it. Usually the doctors can 'fix' someone who gets broken, but sometimes they can't and then they die.
I don't know how good a solution this might be for you, but it's seemed to work for us. We didn't want to compare death to sleep because we were worried that at some point when death became a solid concept, he'd be scared to sleep! Good luck. amy
My daughter has just started to ask about death and I'm wondering what are appropriate responses for this age (3). When she asks ''What does die mean?'' I usually explain that it means your body doesn't work anymore. Just today she asked if she was going to die and then added that she didn't want to die. I told her that everybody (and other things in nature) dies but I also talked about her very old great- grandmother who has had many birthdays and is still alive. She doesn't seem scared of the idea, just curious and unsure and I would like to give her the answers she needs so that this does not become an overwhelming fear. I want her to feel secure knowing that she is a young, healthy girl who is unlikely to die for many, many years but I don't want her to get a false idea about death as only for the very old. How did you deal with the very first conversations about death? How did your children react to your different responses? I looked on the website but only found responses for children dealing with a close death but not quite the general, less direct language I'm looking for. Thanks in advance. S.M.
1) When she asked what dead means, we told her you don't live in your body anymore but that you keep living in the hearts of people who love you. (We are not religious.)She seemed more comfortable with that idea than the idea of just not existing anymore.
2) This one was all our daughter's idea. She came across the old dog collar of my husband's childhood dog and began asking lots of questions about her. We answered them all as matter of factly as we could, and then she kind of went through a little grieving process, saying she missed the dog, and wished she could see her, etc. She would hug us and cry. Then she started roll playing the dog. She wore the collar for about 3 days and insisted we call her Shasta. I know it's weird, but after that, she kind of got over the upset about death.
3) Now her questions are about being old and dying. She's trying to understand what it means to be older vs. old. She was worried about getting older at her next birthday because she thought she would die. We've since been going through lots of family albums to show her that aging is a long process and that life is full of lots of years and lots of good times. She still worries a bit and asks lots of questions, but she has stopped crying about it all the time. Good luck to you. I look forward to others' advice here. anon
She seemed to accept this, especially once she saw a dead cat which turned up on our lawn one morning. Most people would try to get their kid away from it, but she genuinely seemed interested and not frightened, so I let her look at it a little and pointed out how it didn't seem to be living in its body anymore, the cat that looked at us out of the body's eyes and meowed at us wasn't there anymore.
She has always had a pretty healthy attitude towards death since then. She talks sometimes about our blood and our bones and our meat as if they are the mechanisms that get us around, which I think is pretty accurate.
When her grandmother died recently, she went through a phase of playing dead. We had to ''bury'' her (cover her with a blanket), then say nice things about her (her grandmother had had a wake); then she would either ''wake up'' or turn into a ghost and walk around that way (she made that connection herself!). This went on for awhile, and we were a little worried, but everyone said she is just dealing with it. They were right, she's fine.
I think that the more you try to describe accurately what happens in death, the more informed your child feels, and that is reassuring to them. I think people underestimate how much knowledge can dispel fear: it is the mysterious which is really scary.
You can also explain that death happens when someone gets hurt too badly (like in a car accident), or when they get really, really sick, or if they get too old; but it almost never happens to kids who are just regular kids running around. This will reassure them as well. Heather
Can anyone suggest a book for parents on how to explain death for a four year old? My child suddenly is talking about death daily, why do people die?, when will I die?, etc. Need help in answering difficult questions. Mom
For some time, the answer he most excepted was: ''Everybody, everything that lives will die. Just like people, plants, and animals have a day they are born, they will have a day they die. We just don't know when that day will come.'' Often, I'd add something about how I hoped that day would not come for him or for me for a long, long time.
I try to keep in mind that curiosity is good. Try to pinpoint exactly what the question, concern, or anxiety is. Often, we as parents over-complicate issues for our little one by saying too much. Good luck. mama of boy w/ lots of ?s
My four year old, who knows what dead means, has recently been asking a lot of questions over the last several weeks about dying ( does everybody die? Will I die? When do you die?, Where do you die?) and expressed concerns about not wanting to get old and not wanting to die. He seems worried about the whole subject. Is this typical in a four year old? No one we know has died recently although my mother did read him a story that had a graveyard in it and explained what it was. I have tried explaining to him that people usually only die when they are very, very, very, very, old and that it is not something he needs to worry about or think about. I'm wondering, though, whether there is a better way to answer these questions, because he continues to ask the same questions over and over. Any advice or suggestions would be much appreciated. (P.S. we are not religious).
I checked the web site and the discussion on dying is focused on helping a child deal with a particular death of a close relative. I would be interested in getting additional thoughts. Karen
The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown (illustrated by Remy Charlip) (about 4 children who find a dead bird and give it a burial ceremony) and Swan Sky by Tejima. (a very powerful story about a swan family who delay flying north for the summer to be with a young swan who is sick, and then dies. Her image reappears to them in the clouds after they make the journey.)
My son got very emotional when I read these books to him, asking about his own death, our deaths, etc. Generally, I reassured him that none of us will die until we are very old, that he is safe etc. These stories gave us the opportunity to talk about the fact that people do die, and we wondered together what happens to someone after he or she dies. I've wondered if these books are a bit strong, but he often picks them out to read when I present them among a choice of books for reading time. Heather
My son has been very pre-occupied with death adn dying and the number one thing on his list for Santa this Christmas is to ''Live forever'' I hoping someone can validate that this is normal development, refer good reading materials helpful on the subject or suggest a Therapist to go over his anxieties. Thank you Stacey
My 7 year old daughter heard about the tragedy with the local family found up in Tilden Park a few weeks ago, which brought to her attention for the first time that it is possible for a child to die. She's thinking about it quite a lot, it seems, and though we talked about how sick the daddy must have been, and explained that these things are very rare, she is afraid to go to sleep some nights now, fearful that she will die, or that we, the rest of her family, might die. Any suggestions for how to deal with this fear, how to talk to her about it, etc.? Thanks. Too Close To Home...
That said, I personally, would sit my child down and say that we are not here on this earth so that people can dwell on our deaths. We are here so that people can remember us and honor us. Then you can ask if she'd like to do something to remember the children and family, and if/when she says yes, you can manufacture a handy-dandy ritual. IMHO rituals have real functions, especialy to children. Perhaps she buries a small drawing that she makes, or burns it, or ... whatever. Perhaps you can go and buy a special candle/smudge stick/piece of incense.
The point here is to let her channel her emotions toward something that you gently tell her is what we do. It will give her emotions a little context and safety, and hopefully will allow her to move on.
I would encourage her to honor the spirit of the family and NOT to dwell on how they died, and would treat the entire thing with respect, but in a matter of fact way. And when the ritual is over, I wouldn't let her dwell on it, because that's just not what you do.
No idea what others would think of this approach, but ... there you go. A suggestion. ritual-appeciating mom
My 11 year old has developed a very huge fear of death. At night when he is trying to fall asleep he will come in and tell me he is afraid of dying - often in tears. At one point he told me (during the day) that he thought there was something wrong with him because he worries about dying too much. He would like to go to therapy because of his fear - we have a therapist he used to see, but any advice or similar experience would be great. Lev
One day, I told my mom after school that I was ''afraid of life'' (which was really more ''afraid of bad things that could happen in life, like death'') and she took me extremely seriously. She called my father at work and asked him to come home, and he spent the afternoon walking and talking with me about my fears. I was mortified that she called him, but in retrospect, I think it was the right thing to do. It made me realize that my fears were important to them and that there are ways to talk out and combat fear. I don't remember when these fears ended, but I do remember that over time and after some discussion with my parents, I grew out of them. Hope this helps. anon
We lost twins to still birth a little over a year before our daughter was born. This was of course devastating, and we are comforted by observing a yarzheit for them every year on their birth day/the anniversary of their death.
This year my daughter will be old enough to ask about the yarzheit candles. She's started to ask about siblings (which due to infertility challenges she may not have), and also about people ''passing away'' after a conversation about her great grandfather. She understands that ''passing away'' means that person doesn't come back, and has exhibited some anxiety about what would happen if she or we passed away.
Any ideas on how to discuss her siblings with her, given that they passed away at birth, without scaring her unnecessarily? Thank you! Mom to Three
This fall will mark the the 5th yartzheit for our stillborn son. We are gearing up for our soon to be four year old daughter to be very curious about the yartzheit candle, the trip to the grave site, etc. We have already introduced the concept of death, as our dog died earlier this year and our son's name is not totally unfamiliar to her. However, we are preparing for this year to bring up a whole bunch of new issues.
The piece of advice I have found to be very helpful related to this situation is to answer any questions our daughter asks in a direct, clear and honest way - but to not overdo it and to not try to get her engaged in a conversation about it if she isn't pursuing it. Include her and don't hide things from her, but be prepared for her to want to talk about it at some random time in the future, not in the moment. In past years, we have told our daughters teachers/day care providers what is going on so they are prepared to answer any questions that come up.
Again -- if you would like to talk off-line please let me know. Take care. Jessica
i was concerned about telling our second child and also not telling him. i didn't want him to grow up not knowing and feel betrayed or shocked because we had kept this from him. on the other hand, i was so worried that it would break his heart or scar him permanently.
ultimately, i talked to a friend (my age) whose older sibling had child as an infant before she was born. my friend told me she grew up always knowing about her older (deceased) sister and that it was never scary or strange, just a fact of life.
so, one day, when my son was about 3.5 i just mentioned that i wanted to tell him that we had had a baby before him who died. i told him her name and that it was a very sad thing and that we were so glad he was here. i could see him taking in the info but i'm not sure it made a lot of sense being 3.5. then, periodically, we'd talk about it a little bit and then the words and concept became familiar. i never went too deep with it. just kept it basic and always said it was a sad thing but we were so glad he was healthy and happy.
it wasn't until a few months ago when i was pregnant with twins that our son started asking about and talking about his older sister. just kind of talking about her like, 'how old would she be now. i wish she was here, too.' interestingly, he has never seemed distressed about it. i think now that he has two younger siblings the idea of having a sister he never knew is making more sense. it may eventually come up in a distressing way, i don't know, but so far, it seems we've managed to have it be part of our family story.
in a way, i feel glad i introduced the idea and info when he was really little before there were a lot of complex questions. he treats it more like an interesting fact of our lives but not like shocking news.
i have no idea if this is helpful but i completely understand what you're going through and wish you the best. -s
Younger children may not have the vocabulary to express what they are thinking so you can always get creative and do something like draw a picture of what you think the place where the deceased has gone looks like (or something like that which fits with your religious/personal beliefs).
Overall the best advice I can offer is to be open and honest about what happens when someone dies, how you feel about it, and what it means with in your religious and personal beliefs. ''I don't know, but I believe ...'' is an ok answer. It's also ok to express emotions that you might have about death, even crying if it makes you sad to talk about it. Most kids will experience death at some point in their young lives, be it a pet, a grandparent, a friend etc. It's extremely helpful if they feel that they can talk to their parents; ask questions and say how they feel. Heidi
My mother is dying. Her lung cancer has spread to her brain, and she may only have a few months left to live. My 4-year old daughter and I are flying out to be with her and my siblings in mid-July, and we'll be there for the rest of the summer. My mother is my daughter's favorite grandparent. I have no experience with a loved one dying, and I need some advice on how to prepare my daughter for this. Specifically, how do I prepare her for seeing Grandma so sick and unable to have fun with us? How do I keep her healthy and happy while taking care of my mother? Is it appropriate to act happy and funny with her while my mom is dying in the next room? What can I do to counteract all of the sadness that will be around us? I've already looked into summer camp programs and local babysitters so that she'll have some time away from this. I really have no idea about how to handle this. dawn
He was fine with Dad. He was fascinated by all the medical equipment, Dad's special bed, you name it. To the extent he acted out or was stressed by it, he was mostly responding to us and our emotional state.
But it was wonderful to have the kids around - they are a great distraction for everyone. It gives everyone something to do.
I didn't want to hide what was happening. I very deliberately told him that his grandfather was dying, and not sick. I didn't want him to worry later on if he or I got sick that it meant we were going to die.
It's hard, and you should certainly have activities for him to do, but don't keep him away from his Grandma at this time. Been in your shoes
Both were right. 20 years later all my nieces and nephews have warm loving memories of my mother, and none of them was traumatized, either way. Since both my sisters acted in the best interests of their children - as you intend to do - it all worked out fine.
Something I learned from my own kids, later, is that they tended to understand things better than I did -- just on their own terms.
Good luck, and I'm terribly sorry you and your mom are going through this tough time. I hope you get some joy this Summer, with everything else. Motherless Mom
The Dougy Center is a great resource for helping children through grief. There is also a book called ''Badger's Parting Gifts'' that is great for that age. You don't mention your religious affiliation, but Maria Shriver wrote a book for kids called ''What's Heaven?'' that prompted some great discussions with my kids who were then ages 3, 6 and 9.
I found a book called ''Dying Well'' by Ira Bayock(?) to be very helpful to me through my Dad's hospice care.
I wish you well on this grief journey - remember to care for yourself too. Miss my Dad
As for what behavior is appropriate during your time with your mom, my kids' presence was always a welcome relief for my dad, to be honest. I always prepped them about grandpa's condition and warned them that he might not be up to visiting, so they were prepared. Always have books, drawing paper, and such on hand. My kids always did drawings for grandpa in the hospital. Even if he wasn't awake to receive them, he got them later. It made them feel like they were helping in some way. I also discussed conversation topics with my kids in advance.I gave them ideas on what to tell grandpa about so they would be prepared to talk and not just sit there in awkward silence.
It will be exhausting for you, worrying about your mom and trying to care for your daughter. Be prepared for that. Explain to your daughter that you must do this because grandma is your mom, and families take care of each other. My daughter ended up being so supportive and nurturing of ME when my dad died that I am teary-eyed right now thinking about it.
As you can tell from my thoughts on this, honesty is everything. Lay it all out for her, in terms she can handle. Even let her know you are sad and scared, but that you are going to jump in and do what you can to help.
My wonderful and loving mother is in the hospital in a coma and the doctors don't expect her to live. I have two children, age 7 and 2 1/2, and I was wondering how to tell my children that their beloved grandmother is dying. Is it appropriate for them to see her in the hospital' I think it might scare them. I find myself crying all the time. I try to hold back the tears around the children because it upsets them, but I can't always. What do I tell them when they see me crying' Are there any good books on dealing with grief, or on explaining grief and loss to young children' I almost feel that I just can't handle this horrible, sudden loss while still being a good mother. Any advice would be gratefully appreciated. Grieving Daughter and Mother
When my mom died, my daughter was just over 2, and my nephew (who was extremely close to my mom) was almost 5. While my mom was in the hospital (also in a coma), my sister decided not to take her son to see her, since she looked so awful. She explained to her son that his Grammy wouldn't look like herself and couldn't talk to him, and he seemed to feel comfortable with that. Instead, she had him draw cards for her and took those in every day. That at least gave him a sense of ''connection,'' and seemed to mean a great deal to him.
A 7-year-old, though, might be able to handle an actual visit, if he's a fairly resilient kid and you prepare him in advance and tell him that his grandmother might be able to hear him even if she couldn't respond. In the months to come, it could bring him comfort knowing he was able to hold her hand and say goodbye. (I wouldn't bring a 2-year-old, though.)
As for expressing your own grief in front of the kids, I think it's important to do it (though perhaps more moderately than you do in private.) If you try to keep it all secret, they're going to sense that something is terribly wrong anyway, and they won't be sure what it is, and that will just scare them.
Even my two-year-old seemed to understand when I talked to her about why I was sad. As we talked, I also learned how attached she already was to my mother, and how sad she was that she couldn't play with her anymore. She had a lot of questions about death, and really had to work through the issues in her mind (is she coming back? can I visit her? where is she now? etc.) We looked at pictures of my mom, talked about the fun things we'd done together, and talked about how we could still talk to her, even though we wouldn't hear her talking back to us. And, of course, I reassured her often that her daddy and I weren't going anywhere, and that she'd have her mommy until she was an old woman herself (even if I can't really guarantee that.)
Two years later, we still talk about her a lot, so she still has a presence in my daughter's life. Both she and my nephew say from time to time that they miss their Grammy, but both generally talk about her happily.
Good luck to you! Elise
What is the best way to explain death to a two year-old and help ease the pain/confusion of never seeing a close person (her current daycare provider) again? How can I best communicate to her that she did nothing wrong to have caused this situation? She might have feelings of guilt and doubt, but these terms/concepts are beyond her current vocabulary. What kind of transitional behavior can I expect from her? I've read somewhere to never explain death with sleep, or the child might become afraid of sleeping. A few months ago somebody on this list recommended children's books on the subject of death and dying, but I did not save the information - - assuming I won't need it. Any comments are appreciated.
My daughter really liked it when she was 2. We both continue to like it a lot. It should be available at both the library and at bookstores in paperback. Suzanne
Use reality words, not euphemisms. No one knows what happens after death, and it's fine to say that to the kid. If you have some religious belief, you can incorporate that. Death of a pet or person can be a good intro into your spiritual beliefs.
You'll have to revisit the subject from time to time as your kids develop. They "understand" it in one way at one age and integrate it differently as they grow.
Don't be afraid to show your own sadness and to talk about it. But also make sure your child doesn't see you freaking out about a death. He needs to know you are still there for HIM, that you are going to hold together despite the death. He has to see that you are functional and healthy because he knows instinctively that he depends on you for his very life.
I'm just going to quote from my book, The Single Parent's Almanac, for what I told my son (20 months at the time), as I can't say it any better: With my son, "I told him what had happened and presented emotional expression as normal and natural: 'Daddy died. That means we won't see him anymore. You may see us cry because we're sad and will miss him.' Because young children are especially self-centered and may feel responsbiel for everything, I emphasized that Christopher was not the cause of Tony's illness or death.
Although Christopher knew Tony was gone, toddlers have no sense of time or loss and think death is temporary. I was tempted to let him think that indefinitely, but he would have come to mistrust me later when he understood the true nature of dying. I used no euphemisms and told Christopher the truth, or a limited version of it that I could build upon afterwards without contradicting earlier statements. Daddy had not 'gone to sleep,' 'passed away,' 'gone to heaven,' or 'left for a long visit.' I used simple words and concepts to which Christopher could relate: 'Dying means Daddy's body stopped working. He can't eat or breathe or walk anymore.' Having experienced eating, breathing, and walking for himself, Christopher gained some sense of death in this way."I went on in the book to explain how I sheltered him from others' intense emotions, maintained routines as much as possible, and gave him extra "loving time." He didn't go to the memorial service.
I also wrote, "In the weeks after the service, I couldn't bear thinking about my son's future questions ... My first instinct was to spare Christopher (and myself) the pain of our situation. Parenting, however, involves helping a child experience and label his emotions while avoiding the message that he 'should' feel any certain way. Instead, I told Christopher how I felt. 'It makes me sad that Daddy died,' but not, 'You're sad, too.'"
I really couldn't tell, in fact, what Christopher was thinking. Instead of trying to guess at his emotions, I just reflected back his comments so he would know I heard him. "You're thinking about Daddy." Later we talked about emotions in general - sad, glad, etc. Age appropriate terms. I made up stories and explained that some are sad, some happy, and some both. This planted the seed that feelings can be complicated and that complex feelings are okay.
Christopher didn't have much immediate reaction, and I worried about THAT! I was advised to approach him in the third person, a more distant, safer-feeling way for him. "A boy might wonder why his Daddy doesn't live with him now." The idea was to give him permission to talk about the subject without forcing it.
I was also recently at a Learningsmith store and they had a wonderful book for small children that explained death. The story line revolved around the death of a pet, and the explanation the parents give to the children about what happened, and the ceremonies the family goes through after the pet dies. I was really impressed, and almost bought it (I still may). -- Kimberly
Another book I really liked was Badger's Parting Gifts by Susan Varley. Badger dies in this book and his friends are sad, especially Mole. At the end, they talk about all the gifts Badger gave them -- teaching them to skate, cutting a string of paper figures, etc... (I don't remember exactly, but you get the idea)
I also logged onto www.amazon.com and put the names of these books in. They have a section that's called "People who bought this book also bought..." and it lists other related books, some of which looked interesting to me.
My mom, in her late 80's, living in another part of the country, has been diagnosed with an inoperable and deadly cancer. She is still functioning very well and not in pain, and (at least currently) will take no treatments. My problem is that I'm at a complete loss about what I need to do, emotionally, spiritually, before she dies. Finances and legal issues have been taken care of. My children are very young and hardly know grandma. I speak with her twice a week but it's mostly about medical facts and small talk about books or movies. The attempts I have made to discuss more emotional issues have been met with comments like ''I don't want to discuss depressing things, when you die you die, I hate when people have cancer and people look at them with pity and say - oh, I'm soooo sorry, I love you I love you.'' She does not want to resolve old conflicts, it seems to get her furious all over again - we've managed well over the years because we have learned to not discuss these things. But it frightens me that I will lose her soon and that there's something I will wish I had done or said. We are so lucky to have this time...but what does one do with this time? I would like advice about how any of you have handled this, any regrets you have had, and any spiritual or psychological counseling that has helped you understand your role with a dying parent. --unsure what to do
My mother, 84, died in October. She was confined to a wheel chair for years. When I walked into her hospital room a few days ''What (possesion) do you want?'' I wasn't quite on that page yet. Being the youngest, 46, my mother wanted to make sure I wasn't left out. Once I got over the shock, it was a wonderfully ordinary conversation.
When she was settled back at home, I asked her why she had refused the feeding tube? (as little cracking in my voice as I could) She said ''Why would I want to live like that?''
I was blessed to have those words. I know that dying for her was an ease to her suffering not something to be feared. I hope you are able to hear it, if this is what your mother wants to say. I really had nothing to settle. I later learned things from another sister that I wish I did not know. She did have issues but she didn't feel the need to go there with my mother (her stepmother).
My children (7 and 9)were in the room a few hours before she died and immediately after. My mother was Catholic, so we prayed the rosary before she was taken away. My children never seemed to have been traumatized. My mother had been getting progressively weaker all of their lives.
If your children could visit your mother, they might realize that she is ill and it may help them understand better. Unless she is a very young looking 80, chances are they already see her as an ''old person''.
I wish I had something to say that would ease you through this. At the risk of sounding like a Halmark card, your mother will always be in your heart. Which reminds me of when my oldest sister and brother went to the mortuary. My sister reminded the man that she had made the arrangements for my father a few years earlier and that we had a large family (more repeat business). He said ok, he would not charge for taking the flowers to the cemetary. To which my sister says ''Oh, I can't wait to tell mom that they gave us money off''. My sister did not realize that she had said it out loud until my brother pointed it out to her. We all smile and laugh knowing our mother would be amused.. My mother's daughter
As for you and your needs, you might think some about it, maybe read some about dying, look into your religious roots on dying or consider therapy JM
Neither one happened. Up until the day she died, she insisted she was going to get well, despite the fact that she was in hospice. She never had the slightest inclination to discuss spiritual matters -- she was a die-hard (so to speak) existentialist and remained so.
And yet, despite the fact that all these coming-to-terms things never happened, her death was one of the most beautiful things I''ve ever been part of. We all told her that we loved her when she was literally on her deathbed, and the sometimes estranged son made his peace with her in private, while she was semi- conscious. She died surrounded by her family, and felt loved, and that was all that counted.
So how do you spend these last months? Visit as often as you can manageand bring the kids with you sometimes even if she's too sick to interact with them. It will mean something to them later on that they knew her. Even visiting for a day or two will mean a lot to both of you. My husband called his mother every day, just to talk for five minutes and check in, update her on the grandchildren, work, whatever.
That's all you can do -- be together, enjoy each other's company. In the end, I felt like it was exactly right. If there's something you feel like you'll regret not saying, say it, but know that mostly what matters in the end is letting go, forgiving, accepting. Unless she wants to talk about spiritual/emotional matters, I'd do your processing with your partner, your friends, your spiritual advisor if you have one, or a therapist. One word of warning -- the year of my MOL dying was hell on my marriage. It brought up a lot for my husband that I was unprepared for. Counseling saved us. Good luck to you. It's such a hard, sad thing to lose a parent. nelly
Finally, I was talking with my mother and I said ''so what do I SAY?'' She gave me one of those profoundly wise mom answers. She said: ''Dying is like going on a very long, long trip, all by yourself. You have to prepare for it. You need to do what YOU need to have done when she is gone, so that you don't have any major regrets. Take care of that. And other than that, just ... be with her. Just sit there. Be her company as she starts on her journey.''
I send you a hug. This is tough stuff cat
A woman I know is dying of cancer. We have a relationship for business reasons, so we aren't quite as intimate as friends...but I really like her and relate to her and always have nice conversations with her. This woman is very open about what is going on with her health, although she hasn't come right out and said ''I'm dying.'' I think she's one of those people who think, ''I'm living,'' no matter what stage of life they are in. But she has told me to spend as much time with my kids as I possibly can. My family really likes her family, her in particular. She and her husband have been very good to us in our business relationship. Our daughters have played together. But they live hundreds of miles away, where they have a huge support network. Given all this, what can I do for her, or give her, or them--especially her kids, aged about 6 and 8 years old? What would be helpful? Appropriate? A right-sized token of my appreciation of her? All suggestions much appreciated.
For starters, I would recommend telling her exactly what you have told us: that the relationship is meaningful to you, and in this time in her life you would like to be able to help her.
>From my experiences with dying family and friends, just keeping in touch on a regular basis is very valuable. You do notice who stays in your life and who fades away at these times. If you have e-mail contact, that is a great medium, because the family can read and respond on their own time table.
Is there any way through your business that you can make life easier for her and her family? Best of luck. Jodie
I guess the tricky thing is that she has not flat out told you that she is dying, and you don't want to step across a line. You could still tell your friend how much you value her--how much better to tell her if she can be a friend for years. And you could still write up the memories, but maybe keep them with YOU until her children need such things. Carolyn
First, you have my sincere condolences. I work in the Campus Benefits Unit. I lost my husband a year ago to cancer. We have three children, ages 3 1/2, 6 (first grade) and 8 (third grade) at the time he died. The oldest two are boys, our youngest a daughter. You didn't mention how old your children were and how your husband died, so some of this may apply, some may not. Also, I would be happy to e-mail or talk with you anytime. I've found it really helps to share experiences with someone who's been there.
First, we all had to acknowledge how hard his death was and that we missed (and still miss) him. We've always kept an open door for talking about him. We especially like to talk about the funny things he did and laugh about it. I've also always said that it is okay to cry and be sad. We still (and I always plan to) bring him up and talk about him as part of our life . what he thought about things, would have liked, too bad he has to miss this, Daddy would have been so proud, etc. I've always tried to treat the situation as if talking about the person who has died is a normal part of life . Don was so important to us I don't want to forget him and I don't want the kids to forget their father. At the same time, we have moved on with our lives. It's a gradual process, and if your loss is very recent, I'm sure it's not something you can even see yet . I couldn't. We all just took it a day (or an hour, or a minute) at a time and never completely gave up. I/We particularly found the first six months the absolute worst time, and find that now, my grief ebbs and flows and tends to get very intense around holidays, birthdays and things we used to do together. Also, it sometimes just hits out of the blue.
Moving on towards the children ... My kids tended to keep "the best" stuff for me. We saw a family therapist before and for awhile after Don's death. I'm sure it helped some . especially in terms of helping my sons get in touch with and verbalize their feelings. As young as my daughter was, she was very in touch with how she felt about all this. We also got hooked up with a wonderful art therapist through Kaiser hospice whom we have continued to see privately . she's a wonderful person who brings a sense of calm and caring with her, and she really focuses on each child during their time with her. The kids really love her, and we continue to see her because they want to.
We also found a few books that really helped:
1. Badger's Parting Gift, by Susan Varley: Badger has grown old, and in the story dies. The other animals, particularly Mole, really miss him. It talks about how Mole feels, and then the animals discover that remembering Badger and the special things he taught them helps them feel better.
2. When Dinosaurs Die, by Laurie (? I think this is her name) and Marc Brown (he's the author of the popular Arthur series): This book was a great jumping off point for talking about when people die, what happens, different rituals, feelings, what we can do to remember and honor the person, It's set up in two page "chapters", and particularly with my two youngest children, we'd read and talk as we went along.
3. The Fall of Freddie the Leaf, I think by Leo Buscaglia talks about the life cycle.
I've also found a book recently called: The Loss that is Forever, The Lifelong Impact of the Early Death of a Parent, by Maxine Harris, Ph.D. I haven't read much yet, but it has given me some language and images of loss that I wish I had had a year ago.
I got all of these books at/through Barnes & Noble. Friends and the art therapist introduced me to some of them and this last one I found on my own.
One thing I did when Don died is that I talked to each of my children's teachers and told them I would be available to come in and talk about what is was like for Don to die. I thought of this because when I took one of my sons back to school, his teacher told him that the other children were not to ask him any questions about his dad's death! I was very concerned and was thinking that if I were six or eight I would have a lot of curiosity and questions and perhaps concerns (if it happened to him, it could happen to me) about what happened. With my sons' permission, and agreement that they wanted to do this, I did go in during the next week and talk with both classes about what had happened. The teachers' gave us time, and my son and I sat up front and I read the book about When Dinosaurs Die, then let the class ask questions. I think it helped us all (teacher, classmates, my child, even me) a lot. Many people, I've found, don't know how to respond when someone dies. By going in and talking to my sons' classes, I feel like I defused a potentially difficult situation and set up how we, as a family, were going to handle losing Don. The kids got to ask questions then, and I told them they could always ask me other questions later. I told my kids they could always tell someone they didn't feel like talking about their dad or his death . it was up to them and how they felt at the time . but we loved him and he was important to us and we wanted to remember him and talk about him when we felt like talking about him . that whatever they felt at the time was okay and they should say that. They haven't told me that they've had a hard time with anyone at school teasing them about their father's death . but we've tried to be very matter of fact about the situation and I've tried to give them a way to respond.
All three children expressed (and at times, still express) their loss in different ways . anger, acting out, sadness/tears, honoring their dad in various ways as have I. Some examples: I think my daughter cried at some point every day the first few months for her daddy. Now she tells me that he lives in her heart with God and is always with her, though there are still times, especially when I'm angry with her, that she still cries for him. My oldest son got "LI'L" DJ for his name on his baseball shirt last summer because he's named after his dad. My middle son recently wrote a memory book in school this year about the things he especially liked to do with this dad. Also, I've shared enough of my tears and sadness with them for them to know how I feel and that it's okay to be sad, and still get on with life. My kids don't stay too sad for too long at any one time, it ebbs and flows for them too. I hoped at the beginning, and still think that keeping the door open about talking about him and treating his death as a part of what can happen in life has helped us cope. It has been hard but it's something we've learned to live with. Sometimes it's still hard. I look back and don't know how we made it to here . I feel like we've been to hell and back and put each other through hell at different times, but we've survived and are doing quite well over all. The loss becomes part of who you are . you don't "get over it", you incorporate it. Recognizing this has also helped me get through . I don't expect to "get over it". What I have found though, is that there are still many wonderful things in life to enjoy.
Sorry to write such a book. I wanted to respond to you and just started writing about various things that have happened/helped this last year. As I said at the beginning, and I'll say again at the end, please feel free to contact me. With all the holidays coming up, I'm sure it will hard. Ours were last year. We did do some things differently which helped. I'd be happy to talk with you about that too. I don't know what (or even if) holidays you celebrate.
For me, the two most helpful books were 'The Courage to Grieve' by Judy Tatelbaum and in particular 'Starting Over: Help for Young Widows and Widowers' by Alice Rice Nudel. I suspect that 'Starting Over' is out of print now, but you might try a public library. I don't see a listing for it in Melvyl.
When talking to my daughter about her father, I was always very straightforward about what happened. I didn't use euphemisms like "he's sleeping" or "he went to heaven". I just said he died. At first that didn't really mean anything to her because she didn't understand. But gradually she came to understand and as a consequence was always very straightforward about it with other people. She usually found some way to announce it to her classmates, so that they knew who she was. She continually surprised me with how she dealt with it. Movies that I found frightening as a child, resonated with her, such as Bambi and others where a parent died. Plus, I always made certain that she knew who would take care of her if something happened to me.
Be aware that your children may get very scared if you get sick. They'll need lots of reasurance that you just have the flu or a cold or whatever and you will recover. And Marie is right, you don't ever get over it, you just get on with it. From my experience facilitating a grief support group it takes between two and three years ( I know this sounds like a lot of time - but for me, just knowing that I would feel better sometime was helpful) to feel ready to move on.
Grief and the Holidays
With the winter holidays approaching, and actually Thanksgiving
already past, I wanted to share one thing that made a big difference
for me last year in coping with Christmas.
At the suggestion of our art therapist, we made ornaments using photos and photocopies of photos with Don (my deceased husband) in them. We used some that were just him, some with one or another of us and him, and a family picture. We got out ribbon, glitter, sequins, glue and I don't remember what else - your basic collage materials and went to town. It was very therapeutic - it brought Don into our Christmas. We hung some of the ornaments on the tree, we gave some to other family members including his mother, and we used some for decorations around the house.
It was very simple, yet very meaningful. Before that, I hadn't found a way to incorporate him into our celebrations.
Wishing you all the best of holiday celebrations to all of you!
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