Q. My daughter passed away from cancer about 6 months ago and I'm concerned about my 2 grandchildren, ages 7 and 4. Could you give me advice about how I might be able to help them?
As a parent who recently lost a child, it can be very difficult to deal with your own grief while also trying to support other family members, including children. How you support your grandchildren may vary depending on their age and how they are grieving.
Your grandchildren are most likely grieving differently than the adults in your family. You may find that they can be crying or sad one moment and then asking to play a few moments later. This is a normal reaction for children and can be helpful in their grieving. Especially with younger children, play is a way for them to express difficult thoughts or feelings that might not otherwise be shared.
You may also find the children continue to ask questions about their mother’s death or if she will be coming back. For children under the age of 7 it is difficult to understand that death is permanent, so they may continue to ask about it. While these questions can feel uncomfortable to answer, it is important to continue to address these questions in a concrete way. Saying that she is “asleep” or “passed away” may sound comforting to adults, but can easily confuse children.
Continue to love and support your grandchildren as you have been doing and take the time to listen to their questions and concerns. It is important for them to know that there are adults they can turn to.
Some families find it helpful to attend bereavement groups for children that have lost a loved one. These groups usually use play and creating art as a way to help children cope with their grief, while meeting other children who have also experienced the death of a loved one.
Here are a few additional resources that may be helpful:
If you would like some additional support, please do not hesitate to call our Hopeline at 800-813-4673 and speak with an oncology social worker who can provide support, resources, and guidance.