How to Help Children Cope With the Loss of a Grandparent

Posted by: Kelly Ryan in Grief and Guidance | September 23, 2022
The death of the Queen of England was, understandably, a significant event for all the countries in the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth. The interest around her passing sent the media into overdrive – there was no shortage of people who were interested in the events leading up to her final resting place – some of that interest was positive, some negative, and all aspects of politics and the monarchy were discussed and debated.

We saw dignitaries, everyday citizens and various members of her family for nearly two weeks straight. But in all the discussion around politics and the monarchy, the only time it was mentioned that she was a grandmother, and a great grandmother, was when we saw pictures of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

For many of us, the death of our grandma or grandpa will probably be our first exposure to death, most likely our first time losing someone we love.  Thankfully, for almost all of us, when we lose a grandparent or great grandparent, we will not have to mourn with hundreds of millions watching our every move as Queen Elizabeth’s grandchildren and great grandchildren had to endure.  

Be Open and Honest About What They are Going to Experience

The shock of losing a grandparent, even if that person had been ill for some time, is going to be hard for a young person to handle – even if they’re in their early 20’s - because it is the first time they’ll deal with death. So, take the time to walk them through the process, as candidly and openly as you can. Ask them to help with the planning of events around honoring their loved one if possible. If they’re younger, be patient with them as they may ask the same questions repeatedly. For them, death is so foreign, so sudden and so permanent that persistent patience is needed so they feel that their whole world isn’t upside down.

If there is going to be an open casket as part of the service(s), take the time to prepare your young person. Seeing their loved one in a casket can be both overwhelming and stunning, and you may have to determine if they’re just too young to go through the experience. If you think they can handle it, prepare them for it – let them know that their loved one is no longer in pain or suffering – and at the viewing, they may think the person is asleep. Prepare them so they understand that their loved one may look very different than they did while living but remind them that they are still the same grandparent they once knew so well.

Explain to them the etiquette around an open casket ceremony. Make sure they know to give each person approaching the casket space to say a prayer or simply say their goodbyes. When it is their turn to approach the casket, do so respectfully. Let them know it isn’t okay to touch or try to hug the body as it won’t be the warm embrace they’re used to. Accompany them throughout the visitation, allowing them to release all their emotions after they’ve said their prayers and goodbyes at the casket. 

Talk About Their Favorite Memories and Stories of the Deceased

Throughout the entire process, that first week and the days that follow, remind them about all the good times and fun they had with their grandparent. Share in those memories and encourage them to keep sharing with as many family members and friends as possible. Keep reminding and preparing them for all the events until everything is complete. Conversations around the events and their memories are so important as they go through their grieving process.

Listening and comforting them will be essential, especially in that first week or two, and in the days and weeks ahead. While you may be grieving as well, try to stay calm and use simple words in your conversations with them. Don’t expect them to get over the loss quickly – everyone's grieving process is different – and if you went through the loss of a grandparent when you were young, share that experience with them.  

Continue to Offer Support Long After the Services have Finished

While the first week or two after their loved one’s passing is extremely challenging for a young person, they’ll need your support in the weeks and months ahead. Don’t rush their process, as we noted everyone grieves at a different pace, as in many cases it takes time to come to terms with the loss of their grandparent or great grandparent.  

Seek Professional Help for the Child if Needed

If it is needed, because the child appears abnormally upset and isn’t coping with the grief of their grandparent, they may best be served by speaking to a medical professional. There are also a myriad of online resources to help with their grieving process.  
What tips do you have on helping a child cope with the loss of a grandparent? Share below in the comments.


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