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Thread: explaining death to children?

  1. #1
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    Default explaining death to children?

    My grandmother passed away last night. Our boys are 3 and 1. The 1 year old is not old enough to realize what is going on, but the 3 year old is. He's seen dead bugs before, but never dealt with death and a human before. If you have been in this situation before how did you handle it? Should we take him to the funeral home? the funeral?

    I want to be honest with him and explain what happened. She was sick and we had a talk with him last week that she was very sick and might die. He seemed to understand that she was sick and wanted her to get better, but he was also a little confused because he had 4 grandma's and he calls all of them Nana. My MIL, my mom, and both my grandmothers which are his great grandmothers. So it took some time to explain which Nana was sick and that the other ones were ok. I really don't want to confuse him more. He only saw her once every couple months and wasnt extremely close to her, but he knows her.

    fyi-I'm thinking of not taking them to the funeral because it will a Byzantine Catholic ceremony which is very long and the entire thing is sung and some of it is not in English.

    any advice is appreciated, thanks!
    Angela (28) DH, Pat (30) DS Connor (4), DS Leo (2), DS Nathan



  2. #2

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    I am so sorry for your loss. I would not take them to the funeral. My mother in law's stepmother passed away last summer (Parker was 3.5 years old). She saw Caroline maybe 1x a month or so. We explained that Caroline went to heaven (God wanted her to go to heaven. she was sick but in heaven you are all better and you can walk, etc (she was in a wheelchair and walker, etc). So Parker knows that heaven is an awesome place (you don't get sick there, you can ride a bike without training wheels and not fall (lol), etc. But when you are in heaven, you don't get to come back to here. She does ask questions and but for the most part she was content with our answers. (she was not very close to Caroline but she did know her and see her somewhat often)

  3. #3

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    We do not believe in heaven so when we talk to our kids about death we say that it's like before you were born. When someone dies we don't get to see them again but they go back to the earth and are part of the flowers, trees, stars, etc. Circle of life so to speak.

    I'm very sorry for your loss.

  4. #4
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    If you are religious I would say they went to heaven. If not I like what Bridget's theory was. I am sorry for your loss. I will say IMO- if you do take your older son don't be a afraid to cry in front him. He needs to know its okay to be sad when people die. Its normal.



  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bridget View Post
    We do not believe in heaven so when we talk to our kids about death we say that it's like before you were born. When someone dies we don't get to see them again but they go back to the earth and are part of the flowers, trees, stars, etc. Circle of life so to speak.

    I'm very sorry for your loss.
    We're kind of like this, too. We say when someone dies that they'll be forever with us in the stars. We still talk about the people who've passed away to remember them. We do talk about how when someone dies that they won't be coming back to our world.

    I'm so sorry for your loss. (hugs)

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by hotpinkmomma0811 View Post
    If you are religious I would say they went to heaven. If not I like what Bridget's theory was. I am sorry for your loss. I will say IMO- if you do take your older son don't be a afraid to cry in front him. He needs to know its okay to be sad when people die. Its normal.


    THIS!!!!


    Lino know's that his sister (My daughter Carloyn that would have been 21 this April) is in Heaven with Jesus. He knows she is int he sky somewhere, but also that we have a place to put flowers for her. I've cried in front of him for her and he understands that it's ok to be sad and miss someone that has died.

  7. #7

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    When my sister died back in May, DS was 2.5 years old. I knew he wouldn't understand death. We are religious and one day when he gets a little older I will explain where she is. I told him that she is gone and won't be back. He knows her head was hurting her.

    I did not let him go to the funeral because I knew he wouldn't understand. I was a mess to begin with and didn't want him see me at the funeral all upset. I DID cry at times in front of him at home but I didn't do any hard crying. I just shed some tears and that was it. Also, I knew he wouldn't sit still and I didn't want to have to worry about him running around.

    *hugs* Sorry to hear about your loss.
    Sandy 36; Jonathan (DH) 38; Caleb born 11/5/09


  8. #8

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    First, I'm so sorry for your loss. We lost my MIL shortly before Thanksgiving, and we went through some of the same questions that you are. Erin (my daughter) did choose not to take Nathan -- he is simply too young to understand at all -- but she took Katie. Katie is a little older than your little one and she was extremely close to great-grandma. Although we had tried to explain to her about great-grandma dying, she had never experienced death and didn't really understand; she still kept asking when could we go see great-grandma again, so we felt she really needed to go so she could understand that great-grandma was gone. She finally understood when she saw great-grandma in the coffin and that was the first time she cried. She was back to playing with her cousins five minutes later. The hardest part was when we left the cemetery -- she cried and said "we're leaving her here!? I'm never going to see her again!" It was difficult, but we felt it was really necessary. If she had not been so close to great-grandma, Erin might have decided not to take her.

    Personally, I would take him to either the funeral home or the burial even if you don't want to take him to the long Catholic ceremony so that he will truly understand who is gone and that she IS gone. But you know your child best and whether or not he could handle it. Big hugs to all of you for what you're going through.
    Lynne, Grandma to three beautiful girls and one handsome little man!


  9. #9

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    My cousin died last month (heart attack, age 30, no warning) and his 4 year old nephew (Chuck) summarized it best in the mini-impromptu eulogy during the funeral. "Andrew is gone because he died. We're sad because we miss him". When we see this little boy, we talk to him about all the good things he remembers about "Uncle Dew". Chuck's little sister is 2 and understood that everyone was sad because we all miss Andrew, but she is still too busy with her own world. Chuck and sister did not go to the body viewing, not because they wouldn't be able to handle it, but because it was a very long day at the funeral home and they would get bored and want to play. They absolutely went to the funeral though (though it was a short non-denomination service).

    Second story: my mom's earliest memory is going to her older cousin's funeral (childhood leukemia back in the 1950's). She remembers very clearly her mom lifting her up to look at Susan in the casket and telling her "Take a good look at Susan now because we won't get to see her again until we go to heaven, too".

    I think children understand death, not in the same way adults do, but enough that they need the closure, too. I know my grandparents are getting to the age where death could be anytime (though we learned with my cousin, that death can call for any of us at any time). I plan to bring my son to all family funerals. If nothing else, he will see why mama and daddy are so sad for awhile. Children are more resiliant than we adults sometimes give them credit for.

    Prayers of peace to your family.

  10. #10
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    Thanks for the input. We are going to take them to the daytime viewings today and tomorrow but not the evening ones. They will not be at the funeral either (as long as we an find a sitter!). I've talked to DS about it and he seems to understand a bit. His biggest concern was asking if his grandpa's and other Nana's were ok. He keeps asking why she can't talk or walk when she is dead, but then his next question was if he could watch Buzz Lightyear. So I am not sure. I think going to the funeral home will help him. I explained what would happen at the funeral home so he knows what to expect.
    Angela (28) DH, Pat (30) DS Connor (4), DS Leo (2), DS Nathan



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