Dealing with grief is never easy. It doesn’t matter if you knew the day was coming. It doesn’t matter how old you are when it happens. When you lose someone you love, pain and sadness take hold of you. Depending on your personality, your first reaction might be to burst into tears or feel numb. But when you’re a parent, everything you do has an audience. We have to think twice about how we react in front of our kids and how we explain it to them.
Losing my grandmother a few weeks ago taught me many lessons. It was difficult for me to accept that the last time I saw my grandmother, someone I cared about deeply, was really the last time. But it also showed me how older children can deal with death in different ways. There is no right or wrong way —everybody has to find a way to face the reality of losing somebody they love and as a parent, it’s up to us to guide our kids through it.
My son had few words, but offered me warm hugs. At 12 years old he knew what I needed and simply gave me his love. My 9-year-old daughter was sad but didn’t know what to do with her emotions, so it was easier for her when I had answers to her questions and told her specifically what she should do in a situation she couldn’t control. Telling her to write a message for my dad or reassuring her that it was okay to feel sad, guided her through uncharted territory. She felt lost and needed me to hold her hand to figure out what to do with what she felt.
I felt terrible for leaving them while they were dealing with their grief but I really wanted to make it to the funeral in Santiago, Chile — which meant taking the red eye the night I found out. During those eight hours, I thought about whether or not I would have taken them to the funeral if they had traveled with me. If they would have asked, I probably would have said yes, because rituals bring you closure when you are able to understand them. If they had been younger, I would have probably preferred to do a different ritual, such as writing a letter to the person we lost, attaching it to a helium balloon and letting the balloon fly away, or planting a tree in memory of our loved one.
My cousins did allow their kids to attend my grandmother’s services and I realized they were so right in doing so. In my eulogy, I shared little-known stories of my grandma. Some were funny, but others showed how courageous she was. Like the time she tried to save her imprisoned brother after the military coup. By hearing these stories, her great-grandchildren learned more about the woman they only knew when her light was beginning to fade out. Afterward they asked me questions about her and her life. That’s when I realized that regardless of how you choose to deal with grief in your family, it’s important to talk. It’s crucial to answer your child’s questions. But above all, honor your loved one’s memory by remembering them always.
Image courtesy of Jeannette KaplunMore On