Supporting Kids When Family Members Die
My Nana passed away last week. She was 105 (but just days shy of 106). She was my great-grandmother and my kids’ great-great-grandmother. Up until a year or two ago, she was in excellent health. She still lived by herself and didn’t stop driving until she was 102.
The only other experience my kids have really had with death was several years ago when my grandfather died. Both the boys were very young and didn’t attend any of the services (well, except for Ben who was only 18 months old and of course spiked a fever that morning rendering him unable to go to daycare). This time around however, we found ourselves without child care. The wake and funeral took place on a Saturday, so child care and school were out of the picture and all of our babysitters are family members who would also be at the services. My sister found herself in the same position, so we agreed we’d just bring our kids and hope for the best.
Figuring out how to best support my kids during this was a challenge. I spoke to the boys about what happened to Nana a few nights before. We had to cancel a much anticipated ski trip and I was worried about how they’d react to that. They both took the news really well. What I wasn’t sure how to handle however, was the wake. When I told them she died, they asked why and I explained that her body was just very, very old and it stopped working. I’m afraid to tell them that her body was tired or that she was sick or anything because I fear that the next time I go to bed early because I’m tired, they’ll think I’m next to go. Like my grandfather, they think she’s in the sky now (we don’t really talk about Heaven or anywhere else, they came up with the sky thing on their own). So I had no idea how to talk with them about the open casket at the wake. How do I explain that it’s Nana’s body but that she’s no longer alive?
The day of, I packed a bag full of snacks and electronics. I knew I’d be busy helping my mom and talking with people so even though the vision of kids in headphones on iPads at a wake made me cringe, I wasn’t sure what else to do. When we arrived, I ushered the kids to the back of the room avoiding the casket in the front all together. After awhile, we moved all the kids, along with my 13 year old cousin to a separate room where they basically stayed the whole time. My sister’s kids did go up to the casket and said goodbye to Nana, but we didn’t address it at all with ours.
After the wake the kids went back to the hall with my in-laws to set up for the reception afterward. They knew that that part was going to be a party. A birthday party. To say goodbye to Nana on her 106th birthday.
I feel like I didn’t handle the situation very well. If you’re non-religious, how do you talk to kids about death or how have you handled having young children at a service like a funeral? How do you explain to and support children when family members die?
- E-family news: Death as a Part of Life