How to help your children deal with loss of a loved one

This morning, as I was trying to prolong my few extra minutes of precious sleep, Maya came and sat next to me.  The conversation went like this “Mummy, you know when you die (my eyes shoot open) and they bury you in the ground, will you be wearing clothes and have your phone with you?” (First conclusion to draw from this deep conversation is that evidently mummy spends too much time on her phone) I sat up and thought how best to approach the subject.  I decided to go with the approach with an open ended question and simply asked why? Maya looks up with her big brown eyes full of concern and replied “you’ll need your phone, to ring me and so you have something to stop you getting bored.” I looked at my princess and took her into my arms and wondered what goes through that mind of hers.
The D word has been discussed quite a lot in our house, not because we are morbid weirdos, but because Docs grandma was rushed to the hospital, some 4 weeks ago.  The prognosis when she got admitted and the first few days were very touch and go.IMG_7234IMG_5749Our family make up is slightly different from normal families.  Doc, Maya and I (then Raihan when he arrived) spent the majority of our years of married life and early years of Maya’s life living with both Maya’s grandma and great grandma.  Even now we only live next door and she sees her grandparents (on both sides) on a daily basis.  If you ask Maya who is in our family she will also start with “gayra dadi (great grandma), daddi (Docs mum), Papa, mummy and works her way down.

Following the admission into hospital, I was at home with the children and wondered whether I should tell Maya what was happening. The boys are still too small to really understand and comprehend what losing someone will mean.  Maya on the other hand is at the age where she will ask and wonder but is still so innocent that I didn’t want to burden her with more information and sadness that she can deal with.

So, Doc was spending night after night at the hosp and after putting the children to sleep I would lie awake for hours on end thinking about death and what to do and say to the children.  To lose someone you love so dearly is such an imaginablely painful loss.  What gets me is the finality of it.  That after that one day the person will be gone forever and never to return.  I think it’s this forever aspect that children cannot comprehend.  For children, the summer holidays feel as though a lifetime has passed so how to make them understand that from this day forward this person will no longer feature in their lives?  Also, seeing superheroes coming back to life magically on TV distorts the whole idea of death as children apply this idea to normal life.

IMG_4846I know of people who have lost people in so many ways, during pregnancy, still births, young children, parents, siblings, best friends.    I read this heart wrenching post about a couple whose baby passed away shortly after his birth.  It saddened me to my very core.  We spend our days usually complaining about the most benign and pointless things whilst there are people out there who are dealing with so many other problems.

Death is an inevitability  for us all but how to deal with issue of death with children?

Like most things in life, the answers to most problems can be discovered through a simple google search.  There is so much stuff on the net about helping children with loss that it is overwhelming.  From all that I read there seems to be some common points that have been raised:

Children appreciate the truth.  You know your child better then anyone and it’s for you to make that judgement call.  I decided that trying to talk Maya about it rather then avoiding the subject would be the best approach for us.  Given her closeness to her great grandma and the important role she plays in our family, it seemed the most fitting way. I sat down and explained how her great grandma was unwell and may die.  I originally started using words such as “passing away” but it seemed to confuse her.  I did try and stress the idea that it’s forever. (Now realising from this mornings conversations that I have failed miserably!)

Be prepared for lots of questions, sometimes you may not have all the answers (which is ok and I think you need to tell your children this rather then trying to fudge an answer) but try and reassure your child as much as possible.  Two of their biggest issues that can come about from this is that they will realise that something could happen to any of you.  This is a very frightening realisation and children may need extra hugs and care as they come to terms with this.  Another will be that they feel as they maybe somehow to blame for what is happening.  This would be especially applicable for a sibling or a parent.

Books: I often find books are a great way to engage with your child and may help them understand a particularly difficult idea.  Books are also a good way in making a child understand that they are not alone in feeling loss.  This book looks great in explaining the issues around death and other aspects.

How Dinosaurs Die: a Guide to understanding Death

I miss you: a first look at death

The reviews on these seem to be great and may help you engage in conversations about this really tricky subject.

Memories:  I think it’s really helpful to sit and remember all the good times you’ve had with the person.  This will try and help your children great grandmaremember and recall happy memories that they share with that loved one.  I think this is particularly important in situations where a person has become ill for a while before death.  It’s often hard to remember times of them being well and the happy times you have shared.  Through these discussions it helps keep those happy thoughts at the front of your mind.

Goodbye: A chance to say goodbye: for particularly young children this may not be that helpful but for older children I think it’s really important as part of the grieving process.  I think it would help with them gaining some sense of closure.

For us, at the moment things have taken a turn for the better.  Docs grandma is on the mend thankfully and the subject can be left unspoken for a while.  However, from Maya constantly mentioning the issue to me, its evidently something that we need to address head on, and it will be sooner rather then later.


I am a traveller, mother and blogger. We love to go on adventures (big and small, near and far) and strive to show our children how amazing and beautiful the world is! I caught the travel bug many moons ago and despite having three little adventurers, I still suffer from "itchy" feet. We love the great outdoors and one another. Come and join the fun :)

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6 Responses

  1. Monika says:

    It’s a very difficult subject with children. Mine usually catch me with it when I’m driving. … Not the best time, as I often well up on the thoughts.
    It’s important to talk openly. Those who believe in afterlife have a slightly easier transition to forever.

    • nisbah says:

      Hi Monika, it is very hard to explain. It’s the forever aspect that I think they can’t comprehend. We are back at the hospital today so I’m sure the questions will start again 🙁

  2. When My Husband lost his beloved grandma I made a scrapbook of her life with our children, they loved researching her history and it turned their sadness into a celebration of her life. Thinking of you all x

    • nisbah says:

      Hi Christie, that’s such a lovely idea! I will definitely look into doing that with the children. Think it will also be good for the husband. 🙂 thanks again for reading!

  3. Such a sad time and a difficult topic.

  4. Notmyyearoff says:

    It’s a great post and amazing that your little ones know her so well. Such a hard subject to deal with, Z thinks we all need batteries!

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