Children
August 2, 2016

A mother’s story: How I walked my children through grief

by

In an attempt to protect children, we sometimes avoid conversations, but opening that door helps them through grief over loved ones.

 

When I gave birth to my children, the last thing that crossed through my mind was walking them through grieving a loved one.

As I held each of them for the first time in the hospital, I looked at the epitome of hope, innocence and joy. I imagined first steps, going to kindergarten, weddings and family vacations.

I never imagined how to help them deal with the death and impending grief associated with losing a family member.

This journey began in early June a few years ago when we received the earth-shattering call from my father-in-law. “I’m in the back of an ambulance; they found a tumor on my brain.”

We had just gotten back from Florida days before and found ourselves in our mini-van making the drive back down South again that very weekend.

I had NO idea what we were walking into. To say this was unexpected would be an understatement. While the kids were confused at the sudden trip, we simply explained that Pappy was sick and we wanted to go down to see him and be with the family.

We went straight to the hospital when we pulled into town, but the kids and I didn’t go up to his room immediately. Instead, I brought plain paper and crayons with me into the lobby and planned to have them draw a card for Pappy. Even though I had a 13-hour drive to contemplate how I would handle this situation with them, I came up with no words to share. Instead, I opted to buy some more time and spare them from the flood of emotions I knew would come out of my husband when he saw his father for the first time since hearing this news.

Fifteen minutes later, with freshly drawn cards in hand, we walked the long hallway to Pappy’s room. The kids walked in hesitantly, but quickly lightened the mood in the room.

But that was the easiest part of the next week.

We learned Pappy had one of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer out there: glioblastoma. A tumor already took residence in a quarter of his brain and was quickly encroaching on his brain stem.

He was given six to eight weeks to live.

The only way he was allowed to leave the hospital was into hospice care. We spent the rest of the following week trying to adapt to this news. Instead of our typical Florida activities like going to Disney World and finding shells on the beach, we spent most of our time in and out of the hospital, learning the ins and outs of hospice care, making very complicated life-altering decisions, comforting family from in- and out-of-town and finally, what was most difficult for me, walking my own children through this process.

At one point while the hospice nurse was visiting, I felt emotions among the family members rising. As I tried to usher my little ones outside, the nurse stopped me and said that they needed to face the inevitable, their grandpa was dying.

“It’s OK for his grandkids to know that he’s dying,” said the hospice nurse. “It’s part of life. It’s not an easy part, but that doesn’t mean you should shield them from the inevitable. Talk with them, involve them in the process and most importantly, let them enjoy him while he’s still here.”

So I sat my two kids down on the bed in front of me that night and started with, “Pappy’s really sick.”

Before I could continue on with my rehearsed speech, my 8-year-old quickly said, “We know; he’s dying.”

I wasn’t quite sure where to go from there. I asked how they knew and they said they had overheard us talking, so we proceeded to talk as candidly as possible without creating fear or unnecessary worry in their little heads.

Ten short weeks after learning his diagnosis and just after his 59th birthday (which he shares with my daughter), Richard Cone Sr. passed from this world.

Even though my children did not see their grandfather again before he died, he stayed extremely present in their minds and daily prayers. While there was obvious grief over his death, they found comfort and excitement that one of their family members got to go dance with Jesus in Heaven.

As parents, we desperately try to protect our children from any hurt, yet we often grossly underestimate their capabilities. By not being honest, I was actually creating more stress and tension in my daughter (who is already quick to internalize pain), instead of opening the door for her to feel free enough to come talk to me at any point about all she was experiencing and how it related to her life.

In an effort to protect our kids, we too often prevent them from letting them discover some of the most important qualities of life.

 

Sami Cone is a blogger, TV and radio personality who encourages families to live their best life on less and pursue their passions. She thrives in Nashville with her husband and two children. You can keep up with her frugal family adventures & travel deals on her blog, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

Have you had to walk your children through grief? How have you handled the journey? Share in the comments below.

Loss & Grief, Early Childhood

Bereavement books for any age child

Helpful resources

These books can help kids and teens cope with loss and grief.

3 thoughts on “A mother’s story: How I walked my children through grief”

  1. Leigh Ann Jennings Smart says:

    My husband passed away when our daughter was 8, the day before Father’s Day. For the rest of that summer, I kept her busy with softball, small road trips and time with family. When school started back, since we live in a small town, the principal knew the situation and she was put with a teacher who had lost her father at a young age and was so understanding. I let my daughter know that even though we were both grieving, she was expected to keep her grades up. There were days she would come in from school and dissolve into tears. I would hold her and let her cry it out. To keep her busy that winter, I signed her up for our rec league basketball. Within the next couple of years, she lost her grandmother and great aunt, who was like another grandmother, that lived next door to us and she saw every day. I continued to keep her busy with sports, which she loved, and time spent with family. She is now 15, a straight A student, and plays sports year round. She still has times when she needs to cry and she knows that it is okay to do so and that she can count on me to be there for her. I tell her stories about her daddy so she will know the funny, caring person he was. I don’t know how other people get through the tragedy of losing a loved one, but this has worked for us.

    1. My Southern Health says:

      Thank you for sharing your story, Leigh Ann. How wonderful that you and your daughter have each other for support. – Linda

    2. Bethany says:

      Hi Leigh Ann I just wanted to help you if possible. There is no guidebook to grieving. Likewise, there’s no handbook to raising children after a loved one has passed, especially someone as impactful as a parental figure. So perhaps if I may, I can shed some light from the other end of the spectrum. I was 14 when my father passed away of a sudden heart attack, he was only 38, it haunts me still today. Now my story is slightly different as my mother chose not to be in our lives. However, I am only going to address the loss of my father. Right after his passing my step mother did many of the same things. She got us involved in many many activities sports and otherwise related. We went on a few trips, were expected to continue doing well in school etc. I excelled at sports and school graduated with honors and received a full ride scholarship to SIUE for their pre med program. I took pride in myself for holding it all together for so long. Now, I’m not saying those things were wrong by any means but heres where I felt it lacked, for me. When I left for college at eighteen my young adult mind had difficulty processing my father’s death. Up until now I was kind of pushed to move on, to go on without him and to keep busy so I wouldn’t think about it. Sure there were times it came up anyway and I would cry it out but after that I was ushered to go right back to “normal” to forget about it, and I wanted to be strong for my family too. Up until this point I hadn’t really grieved for the loss of my father. I felt almost robbed of that process. I only continued on without him. Everything was such a whirlwind at such a young age I literally looked for guidance to do what I was told, and what I was told is its ok to be sad sometimes but just stay busy stay strong stay motivated. I literally spent the past four years in my mind believing my father was on a long vacation and if I kept being good he was going to come home. So imagine my utter disbelief when upon arriving to college I came to the realization that he was never coming home. I completely fell apart, I became very angry and resentful, I had to drop out of college, and I spent many years following in therapy, bad relationships, and searching to fill that void in my heart with anything to keep my mind busy to forget about the bad part of it all. What I wish would have happened? I wish from the beginning someone would have told me the truth. That this is what happened to your father’s heart, this is what to expect at the funeral, these are some feelings you may have, and yes it is ok to completely fall apart for a little while because everything you knew to be right in life is now going to feel wrong. These are the stages of grief it is completely normal to go through them all and I’ll be right beside you going through them as well. And when you are ready, we can pick each broken piece up together day by day until the picture is whole again. Direction is ok, but you need to feel these things now because pretending it never happened doesn’t make it go away. Would my grades have slipped? Maybe, for a short period of time but I was a very bright motivated girl my intelligence would have always been there as well as my drive for success. Unfortunately, once your spirit is gone, your mental health compromised, your ability to love and be loved damaged, it’s next to impossible to get that back. Now being a mother myself and having inherited the heart disease from my father I realize how absolutely precious life is. How important it is to not only have a will but a plan for my son God forbid something should happen to me.

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