How to help young kids deal with death?

My father-in-law passed away recently after a 9 month battle at a private hospital in ICU. 9 months ago, he experienced a bout of the flu which was affecting his chest quite badly, so he was admitted for tests to be done. Whilst there, he was given a sleeping tablet and the nurse on duty that evening, failed to put up the bed side bars. My father –in-law turned over, and fell off the bed, breaking his spine and unable to use both hands and legs. Together with his prior heart conditions and ailments, his recovery was a very slow process. He was however, extremely determined to survive and during his 9 month stay, he survived so many procedures, including a tracheostomy insertion, an angiogram as well as a hemorrhagic stroke, which should have left him in a vegetative state, but it didn’t. This man was determined to live and fought through until the very end.   3 weeks ago, he left us peacefully and despite us being filled with hurt, anger and devastation, we had to proceed with planning his funeral. He did inform us prior to his hospitalisation exactly what he wanted should he pass away, so that was adhered to.

My four year old daughter was used to seeing her granddad everyday as he lived with us. Him being in hospital for 9 months was a daily topic of discussion with her as she missed him dearly. During this period however, I did prepare her for his passing and I was honest about the fact that due to his injury & age, there was a chance that he might not come home again. Based on that, a series of daily questions would be asked, like where would he go? What would happen? Why did this happen to him? When will he come home? We are Christian in faith, so I would always explain our belief in heaven and the fact that nobody lives forever. Her ability to comprehend these matters still astounds me to this day, but also makes me realise that honesty with our kids is so vital in everyday life, obviously keeping it child friendly, but still entirely honest. When he passed away 3 weeks ago, I was filled with concern when it came to my daughter seeing her granddad in a coffin, but as much as I avoid taking children to weddings and funerals, there are some we have to make an exception to.

This funeral was definitely one of them and I explained every detail to her in advance, so she knew just what to expect. I avoided taking her to the grave, however she was able to see her granddad at home as well as at the church funerals. She was amazing and as conflicted as I was about her being able to cope, she showed me that she understood everything we had been preparing her for.   It made me realise that preparing our kids for things to come is so vital in their upbringing & that they are able to comprehend complicated topics of life more easily than we give them credit for. Death is something that every human being struggles to deal with and only time can heal that gaping hole that is left behind. My lesson from this whole experience was to let people know that you love them and are always there for them whenever you get a chance to as you never know what life has in store. And never underestimate your children, they have this uncanny ability to be more knowledgeable than we ever thought possible at their young age.

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