Kids share a special bond with their grandparents. Therefore, when a grandparent is very ill, it can be hard on your child. As parents, there are ways you can ease this for him. Find out how.
By Mahalakshmi Rajagopal
“I still remember that day vividly. I was 12 years old and playing with my blocks in the living room when a telegram arrived from our native town. It carried news of my grandfather being admitted in the intensive care unit of a hospital and being quite serious. We packed and left immediately. When we reached my grandparents’ house next morning, several family members had gathered there. My grandfather had passed away the night before. I was shocked! Thoughts swirled in my head and I realised I would no longer receive weekly postcards from him, and more than that, I would never see him again. I missed him terribly. Years later, I realised I dealt with the grief and came to terms with it all by myself. Could I have been provided with better support during that difficult time?”- Reethika Seth, a copywriter with a leading advertising agency.
“Surely two of the most satisfying experiences in life must be those of being a grandchild or a grandparent” – Donald A. Norberg.
True. Nothing quite like the wonderful relationship a grandchild and grandparent share. But, during your children’s growing up years, they may have to face tough situations like witnessing their once energetic grandparents become bedridden because of a serious illness, or worse, seeing them pass away. This can take a heavy toll on your children and be a life-altering experience.
Illnesses in the elderly bring about drastic changes in their everyday lifestyle. While some may be confined to a wheel chair or bed, others may be able to move around but with caretakers or nurses tending to their every need. Whatever change, small or big, that any illness may bring into the life of an ailing grandparent, it is bound to have an impact on your children as well. And young children are not old enough to understand or perceive what is happening around them.
Add to this, many times, parents struggle between sharing the facts and hiding the truth from children, in a bid to protect them from the pain, while they are managing their own emotions. But, this only adds to your children’s confusion and ends up having a negative impact on them.
Well, as parents, you can deal with this sensitive subject with your child in certain ways. Here are a few:
Broach this subject gently. It is always advisable to introduce death as a process that is natural to any living being, as early as possible, irrespective of you expecting an eventuality in your family. This may invariably invite your child’s curiosity towards knowing when different family members may die; but that’s alright. The more you and your child talk about it, the more she will learn to accept it. You may also help her understand death by narrating stories or personal anecdotes. If your child is aware of death as a part of life, it may be relatively easy for you to help her understand and deal with her grandparent’s death, while you deal with your own emotions.
But remember, amidst your grief, you’ll need to respond to her every curious question truthfully and patiently. Also, in the case of an eventuality, never ‘expect’ a specific type of reaction from your child, as each child deals with emotions in different ways, just the way adults do.
For example, here is an instance where a child reacted to the unfortunate situation in a certain way:
In this case, the grandmother who passed away was the primary caregiver of a six-year-old girl. While the passing was a shock to the parents themselves, they dreaded the impact it would have on their little girl. So, they went to pick her up from school that day. The child was delighted to see her parents come to pick her up, as she usually went home by the school bus and the grandmother would receive her.
On the way back home, the parents stopped at an ice cream parlour and got their daughter a cup. Then, they slowly broke the news to her. The little girl paused, looked up at them and continued with her ice cream without saying a word. On reaching home, she did not speak much and went about her routine. In fact, she even insisted on going for her tennis coaching. When her parents gently refused and told her that her presence was required for her grandmother’s final rites, she broke down and wept for an hour before finally calming down. Although she was in denial at first, the granddaughter had come to accept the inevitable and dealt with it in her own way. This helped the healing process.
So, allow your child to experience the grief and heal in her own way. Let her be a part of the grieving. At the same time, do not force your child to get over the unfortunate incident. After all, she has shared a loving bond with her grandparent and it can be hard for her to let go. Let your child know that she is free to handle it the way she wants to. Let her take her time. But be there for her as a constant support.
In closing, here is an amusing moment shared by Neha from Pune: “When we lost our grandfather (mother’s dad), we gently explained to our younger brother, who was seven at that time, that granddad died due to old age. After musing over it for a while, he walked up to his paternal grandfather and asked him why he was still alive and when he would die. Everyone who was around smiled at his innocence. Well, the grandfather eventually passed away, although 30 years later, at the ripe old age of 95!”.
Mahalakshmi Rajagopal, Director, Sahayam Intervention Centre, Sahayam Charitable Trust.
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