Parenting: Saying Goodbye to Grandma

August 4, 2011

It wasn't unexpected. Less than two weeks before, Grandma was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and her health went downhill fast. Immediately before her death, we spent the weekend with her to say goodbye.

On the drive down to Virginia, we explained to Luke and Emma that Grandma was very sick and she wasn't going to get better. We told them that Grandma would likely die and go to heaven soon, where she will get to be with Grandpa, Greg's dad who died two years earlier. Luke asked: "So we won't be able to see Grandma anymore after this?" We told them that they will get to see Grandma one day when they die and go to heaven, hopefully MANY years in the future. We explained, until then, after Grandma dies, we will rely on our fond memories, videos and photos to see her. Emma made us smile when she asked, in all her innocence, "does Grandma have wings yet?"

We had a nice last visit with Grandma. Luke and Emma were a bit hesitant to approach her, at first, since she looked pretty sick. But, in a matter of minutes, they were hugging her, showing her their toys and, most importantly, making her laugh. Grandma "got her wings" less than 48 hours later.

Dr. Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D., internationally recognized authority on brain development and children in crisis, advises parents not to be afraid to talk about death or loss. "Children do not benefit from "not thinking about it" or "putting it out of their minds." Share important facts about the event and try to get a sense of what the children think about it and about death in general. Invite children to talk about feelings they have regarding the event or death. Then you can let them take the lead as to when, how long, and how much this is discussed. If you sense that one or more of the children are becoming over-focused on these issues, redirect the discussion in a way that will not disrupt the class or impact the affected child."

After the funeral, all Luke had to say is that the funeral was boring and he didn't want to go to a funeral ever again. I explained that funerals are nice because it gives us a chance to honor our loved one who died and give an official goodbye. But, I agreed, I hope we don't have to go to another funeral for a long time. Emma told me she was sad and happy at the same time: sad because she misses Grandma but happy that Grandma and Grandpa are finally together again. That night, right before falling asleep, Emma said she hoped that she would dream of Grandma so they could visit together again. I feel the same way. Goodbye Grandma, we love you!

Happy parenting. Cecily

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