teaching children about death?


  • Specializes in rehab; med/surg; l&d; peds/home care.

hello everyone. as anyone in the breakroom knows, my grandma passed away this past monday.

(to the mods, if this inappropriate here, please move this.)

my kids are relatively young. my dd is 6, and my son is 4.5. they both knew my grandma well (their great-grandma) and especially my dd wanted to visit her often. and we did go to the NH often. however, after i got sick with Ca, I hadn't been to visit in a while. anyways, i'm having a hard time explaining this to them. my dd is sullen and sad and i don't know if she comprehends what i'm telling her. she did cry immediately when i told her. however, other people (namely my parents and some close friends) keep telling her she was "very sick" and that's why she died. well, that's also what my family tells her about me. (when i am too sick from chemo and can't care for the kids, they explain to them that "she's very sick"). so now my dd thinks i am going to die and is having a hard time in school, etc. my son is not acting out of the ordinary at all. i don't know if he comprehends it.

sorry that was way long. i don't know how to explain this to them. my kids do go to church and they can both talk about jesus and heaven, etc. i was just wondering if anyone had any advice on how they've maybe broken this kind of news to their own children, etc. i tried the library for books on grief for kids, but can't find any. i ordered some on amazon, haven't gotten them yet.

so, if anyone can help me or point me in a direction that would help, i would appreciate it.so far i've just been honest to the questions, but some are so blunt. my dd esp is very emotional about things and gets worked up easily.

and THANK YOU to all the thoughts and prayers those of you posted to my other thread. they really helped. more than you'll ever know.

(sorry mods if i shouldn't have posted here).

TazziRN, RN

6,487 Posts

A counselor who works with kids sounds like a good idea right now. Seems to me your DD needs grief counseling. It's natural to assume that when one family member dies that another will too, but it's worse for your DD with the "very sick" term being used interchangeably about you and your GM by well-meaning relatives.

I'm sorry about your grandma.


1,343 Posts

I'm so sorry for all the heartache.

I think you should tell your relatives what you told us and they need to stop using the "very sick" thing with your dtr.

A realistic assessment of your health and prognosis should be given to your dtr by you, I think. Don't destroy her hope if you can avoid it. Are you actually improving? Tell her. Maybe take her with you for your treatments sometimes? Not sure. You would know best.

As for your son, I don't know if he's in denial or what. Maybe the idea of a counselor is a good one, although sometimes the less said the better.

So hard to advise since I don't know you but will pray for God's guidance and illumination for you and your kids.

KellNY, RN

710 Posts

Specializes in High Risk In Patient OB/GYN.

An excellent book is When Dinosaurs Die. It really is a great book, because it talks about death truthfully and honestly, while still being gentle and simple enough for a child to understand.

You always want to avoid the "She went to sleep" route, as well as "God took her home". Never, ever promise that you won't die, or even that you're going to live till you're an old woman like your grandmother.

Be truthful about the cancer-tell her that yes, many people die from it (she probably hears worse at school...having a kid her age say "Your mom has cancer? Wow, she's going to die" would not be unheard of). Show her examples of people who've beaten cancer. Is there any way you could take her to a "walk for the cure" kind of event (or at least show her images of it), where you could point out literally hundreds or thousands of other people who have survived cancer?

Instead of people telling her that her mom is very sick, what about "She isn't feeling well?" or that the medicine makes her feel sicker than she really is (often true with chemo and radiation, as I'm sure you know).

I'd help more, but I'm getting ready for work.

Best Wishes

Has 10 years experience.

I am very sorry to hear of your loss.

When my own father died almost two years ago, my nieces were six and four. My sister read them the book by Maria Shriver - heaven help me, I cannot remember the name of it - which is an outstanding one for young children. I believe she wrote it for her kids when Rose Kennedy died.

I also like the book GRANDAD'S PRAYERS FOR THE EARTH - it might be a bit too "old" for your kids, but I love the illustrations and perhaps you could "adapt" it for them as you read it to them.

I also agree that people need to stop telling your kids she was very sick - no matter how true it was. Call the American Cancer Society chapter in your area; I'm sure they could recommend age-appropriate resources for your kids r/t your own disease process.

I don't have children of my own; so my advice in that area is terribly inadequate, I'm afraid. I wish I had something better to give you; the best I can do is offer prayers and thoughts for your family and your children and wish you all the best.

rehab nurse

464 Posts

Specializes in rehab; med/surg; l&d; peds/home care.

sorry i took forever to respond to this. it got buried and it took me a while to find it. i did order several books after asking a couple librarians for help (which they didn't have any).

my daughter has mixed receptive-expressive disorder, and while she is only in kindergarden, she reads and understands 3rd grade material. she hates books that are too "baby-ish". but her emotional side is what's getting to her, especially after so MANY of my family members had grabbed her to tell her "what happened to grandma".

so, i hope some of these books are good and will help her, and i also am getting her a counselor (one for my son too).

so thanks everyone for responding, i really appreciate it.

twinmommy+2, ADN, BSN, MSN

1 Article; 1,289 Posts

Specializes in ED. Has 18 years experience.

I have four children ages 6,5,5, and 1. Thankfully I havn't had to break the news about any family member yet, but we did have an accident with a duckling we were raising.

I told them not to play with the ducklings, they were not toys and were "breakable" living creatures. Of course they could not help themselves and long story short one died.

I had never seen them so scared over anything in their lives. They wanted to take it to the hospital so the doctors could fix it and it would live again. I gave them all hugs, told them to look, that the duck isn't really in the body any more, the duck went to heaven and doesn't feel any more pain so we shouldn't feel sad for the little duck (but that they should be sorry for disobeying Mommy and Daddy and they should listen to us in the future).

WE had many talks about death, why things die (making room for future babies, overpopulation and God taking us home again), that souls feel no pain and are happy to go back to heaven and see God again.

Maybe this would be a good time to talk about your own death (one day a long time from now ;) ) and what would happen then, who would look after them and such?

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