Kids and Death: Saying Goodbye

kids and death

Last month as my father-in-law was laying in the hospital I planned to go in with the kids for one last visit to say goodbye. As my husband and his family had a meeting with the hospital staff about letting his father go in peace and comfort without attempting to do life-saving measures my kids and I chatted in the car about what was going on. It wasn’t a pretty sight. I was crying in the front seat while trying to explain to four kids that tomorrow we would be going to the hospital to say our final goodbyes to one of their closest male role models. Kids and death is not something anybody wants to deal with.

We never got to go to the hospital to say our final goodbyes as my father-in-law passed early the next morning. My oldest was still awake with us that evening when the call came in that grandpa was near the end and my husband should be making his way to the hospital. As I sat on the couch crying and praying for my father-in-law my oldest was not processing. I put him to bed knowing that I would quite possibly be breaking his heart in the morning.

Breaking the News

I woke up the next day with the message confirming what I already knew. Even though we had prepared them for what was coming you could feel the change in the air as I sat my kids on the couch and told them that their grandpa passed away. My oldest buried his face in the couch and quickly got up wiping away his tears. He’s like his mama and bottles up his emotions until the endlessly spill from him. My older daughter needed some immediate consoling as she is our most emotional child. She was still crying when my husband walked in the door.

I didn’t expect too much from my youngest two because at their age I really wasn’t sure what they were processing but we kept the conversation open.

Should They Go To The Funeral?

As we were getting ready for the funeral I had to talk to my husband about whether he thought it was a good idea to take the kids. I was pushing for yes because I knew that they needed the closure and to say their final goodbyes. In the back of my mind, I was concerned that my choice would traumatize them. Maybe they were not ready to see grandpa’s body? If I let them skip it would they blame me later on in life?

We ended up taking them to the funeral and I am so glad we did. Before we went to the mosque we gave the kids a safe word. ‘Potato’. If they said potato I would swoop them away to the car. At the mosque, my oldest still had not cried. My older daughter stood by the casket and cried until a friend went and took her away. My younger daughter went to the casket not once but twice. I don’t know why but maybe she needed it to process.

You know what is heartbreaking though? Finally seeing my oldest break. As my husband and brother-in-law lowered their father’s body into the ground I caught sight of my first baby completely engulfed in tears. I knew it would hit him the hardest as he was the one who spent the most time with his grandfather. I am thankful he got all of those weekend sleepovers to hang out and make memories with his grandfather as they will hopefully keep him grounded now.

The Fallout

I want to say that the kids have moved on and were unaffected but that is untrue. Our younger daughter peed the bed 4 times that first week. We are lucky enough that we live around the corner from our in-laws and see them often. Family dinners now occupy our Sundays and my kids have been leaning on their aunts and uncles like never before. Sleepovers continue and I hope we can continue to keep my father-in-law alive in their memories and hearts.

We are healing now. At this point in time, I think we made the right choice taking the kids to the funeral and surrounding them with people who loved him as much as they did. All I can hope is that we made the right decision in letting them say goodbye.

Aneta Alaei
Aneta Alaei

Aneta is a Toronto-based mom of four that loves a good meal, great company, and learning something new. In her free time, you can find her trying to keep yet another plant alive.

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  1. February 12, 2018 / 10:23 pm

    Oh Aneta, Mike, my heart goes out to you and your family. ❤️

  2. Suzie B
    February 13, 2018 / 6:58 am

    My deepest condolences to your and your family ♥

  3. Anita Harris
    February 13, 2018 / 7:24 am

    This article made me think back to when my own mom passed away. You were working as my assistant at that time and I was so distracted in the months leading up to her passing that I couldn’t keep my head on straight.
    My sisters and I had 4 kids between the three of us ranging in ages from 2-4 years old and my step daughter who was 8 at the time. My sisters chose to have their kids there to say good-bye as it was a closed casket service. But my husband and I chose to have my daughter stay at my mother in laws place during this time. It was for selfish reasons, to protect her from death at the tender age of 3, but also to give myself space to grieve by myself and with my extended family. I didn’t want her to see me break down and not be able to answer all the questions a three year old would be asking. I was the rock for my father and sisters that day and only when I was finally back at my childhood home did I really let the flood gates open up and the tears to fall. Our daughter came back to the house that evening and was surounded by the love everyone had for her Nannie. She got to hear stories and see people laugh and cuddle with her Grampie. She was able to have the happy memories that day instead of sadness. Today we take her to the grave site and she talks to Nannie often in her room when she thinks I can’t hear her. I have to tell myself that we made the right decision in not taking her to the funeral, but I guess I will never know.
    My condolensences to you family during such a sad time. I hope you all are able to move forward with the memories of happy times and life lessons I’m sure he gave each one of you. You’re in my thoughts Aneta. Hugs.

  4. Julie
    February 13, 2018 / 9:16 am

    It’s a tough call, I know. My mom died a few years ago and it was a struggle for all of us. My oldest really benefited from attending the group Rainbows, it is an after school program that is offered to kids who are facing loss. It is a great program and I highly recommend it. I don’t know if you have something similar in your area but it may help to ask at the school, maybe there is something available. My deepest condolences. I know it’s such a tough time but keep talking about him often, with love. It helps.

  5. February 13, 2018 / 9:40 am

    We are keeping this conversation ongoing with all of them but I will ask them if they would like to talk about it in a group setting. Thanks Julie

  6. February 13, 2018 / 9:42 am

    It really is a tough decision to make. When my FIL passed a few years ago, we felt my kids should be a part of the funeral too. We debated whether to guard them from the reality, but this was their grandfather. Unfortunately death is a part of life, and I don’t think we need to shelter our children from it. Hugs to you <3

  7. February 13, 2018 / 9:44 am

    I think you made the right decision for your family and situation. It’s a very difficult choice to make and our it really took everyone at the funeral to take care of our kids that day. Our youngest at 2 really had no idea what was happening but he crawled into a stroller and went to sleep during lunch. He never naps but I think he felt the sadness. I know you keep your mom’s memory alive and E as well and at 3 I don’t think she will remember missing it 🙂

  8. February 13, 2018 / 9:45 am

    Thank you Suzie

  9. February 13, 2018 / 9:45 am

    Thank you Julie

  10. Brian Hwang
    February 14, 2018 / 12:51 pm

    Sorry for your loss. As much as we want to shelter little ones from these kind of things, I feel, like you, that it is important for them to be a part of it and exposed to it. It helps them learn the importance of connection, builds resilience and provides them a safe opportunity to express grief.

  11. Debbie White Beattie
    February 16, 2018 / 3:27 am

    I don’t know how to talk to kids about death because truthfully I don’t know how to deal with death myself. I’ve been fortunate not to lose many people in my life yet and I’ve taken it really hard for the loved ones that I have lost.
    Death is something that is such a hard topic to deal with !!

  12. Elizabeth Matthiesen
    February 16, 2018 / 4:43 pm

    My condolences to you and your family. It’s a difficult choice to make and each child is different which makes it an even harder decision. I do vividly remember the first funeral that I attended as a child, it was my grandmother’s, it was closed casket but I still remember being horrified by it all. I still hate going to funerals and I’ve been to a lot, my parents, my twin sister, my brother, family and friends. It’s not always expected of me to go to the later but I go to support the others who have suffered the loss.

  13. Michelle
    February 25, 2018 / 2:06 pm

    My condolences to you and your family. I think you did the right thing. My parents were very open about death, and funerals with me and my sister, which I am very grateful for. We went to funerals starting at a very young age. I think I was 2 when I went to my first one. Mostly family, my parent’s cousins, aunt’s, and uncle’s, and several family friends as well. My parents did this because they wanted us to know what happens when someone dies, what you do and don’t do at funerals, and what the grieving process is . My father’s mother was quite old by the time we came along, so they knew it was possible we would be attending her funeral sooner rather than later. She died when I was 7. I plan on being like this with my children too. My little ones has already been to one, he was only 3 months old at the time. I think it helps to know what’s happening, and why, and to get closure. As an adult who has attended as many funerals as I have, I find them comforting. They’re still sad, and I certainly do my fair share of crying, but I like being able to support the family, and say my own goodbyes . But that’s just my two cents, everybody’s different.

  14. CAlvin
    February 27, 2018 / 1:04 pm

    Life is full of sadness, it’s a fact. Condolences.

  15. Katherine Moore
    March 20, 2018 / 8:40 am

    Thank you for sharing. What a hard post to write. Loss is a difficult process. My kids were 3 and 4 when we lost my Grandma (their Great Grandma). I’m surprised that they seem to remember her so well (my kids are now 9 and 10). I think what helps is that we continue to share stories of her. Perhaps it’s our stories that they truly remember but they internalize it as a special bond which is wonderful. And it’s true that sharing the memories does keep her with us now. We have not gone through a process of loss since that time but it’s inevitable. I know it will hit them harder now that they are older. We have a tight bond with our family as do you which helps immensely and which I’m eternally grateful for.

  16. Joanne C
    March 22, 2018 / 9:44 pm

    I’m so sorry for your family’s loss. My father in law passed away a few years ago. My kids were 6 and 9 at the time. They went to the funeral. It was hard on the kids as well.

  17. kathy downey
    June 10, 2018 / 3:05 pm

    My deepest condolences to you and the family,it’s never easy.Just be there for each other,talking helps so much ! Hugs