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People who have lost a parent - how do you talk to your children about their missing grandparent?

(29 Posts)
theyoungvisiter Tue 06-Oct-09 11:10:32

My DS1 (aged 3) has never met my mum, as she died a couple of years before he was born.

A few days ago we were looking through some albums and I came across a picture of my mum, and he said "who's that?" I explained that it was my mummy.

I wondered if he would ask where she was, but he didn't. However I think it's only a matter of time before he puts 2 and 2 together and realises that Daddy has a mummy, who is here, and Mummy's mummy isn't.

My mum was and is a very important part of my life, and I want to talk to my DC about her, and make her a real person to them. But I don't know how to go about this without introducing the idea that people's mummies can die and go away forever and never come back - I don't think they are ready for this.

I would be interested to know how other people deal with this? We are not religious which makes it harder - I can't say "she's in heaven" (or at least not without feeling a big hypocrite).

AMumInScotland Tue 06-Oct-09 11:16:09

I would just say that she died - she won't think of her as a "mummy" but as a "granny". And grannies are old, and old people sometimes die.

I don't think you have to worry that this will upset her particularly.

madrush Tue 06-Oct-09 11:17:55

Hello, it doesn't directly address your question about avoiding the message of death, but I read this in the paper at the weekend and it's how this guy has dealt with your situation.

Hope you find it interesting. And for what it's worth, because I'm also not religious and don't believe in any kind of afterlife, I would hope my children will want to be like you and to "introduce" me to my grandchildren if I die before meeting them. I'm sure your mum would be delighted that you want to.

JohnnieBodenAteMyHamster Tue 06-Oct-09 11:20:07

DH's parents are both dead. We've told the DCs this (and have also taken the opportunity to tell them that their grandparents died of smoking-related illnesses grin). They accept it perfectly well. DH talks about them, and they're not a big mystery (we don't do religion, either). I don't think children necessarily connect grandparents dying with parents potentially dying - or not until they're miles older, at any rate.

Acinonyx Tue 06-Oct-09 11:21:22

I told dd that my parents were dead when she was about 3. She has been sensitive about the idea and went through a long phase of asking when she would die, I would die etc and I said when we are very old. She doesn know that people can die through illness and accident. We are not religious either. She seems to have dropped the subject recently - too busy with school probably.

If you continue to talk to her you will need to be prepared for the question 'where is she now' - it is very hard to avoid the topic and it is a difficult one at any age.

Wags Tue 06-Oct-09 11:26:40

I would decide what she would be called, i.e. Nanny, Grandma etc and refer to her as that. DS will at least then understand the concept of who she is as presumably he has Grandparents from your DH's side. Mine first came accross death when the dog died, DD was 4 so she did ask questions. My Dad died this year, DC are now 6 & 4 but we do believe in heaven so its a different situation. I explained to them using something I got from MN about the hand with the glove and the hand being the soul and the glove the body that isn't needed any more. How sad for you, hope someone else comes up with some ideas for you. Lovely idea though to still make her a part of DS's life, I will love to hear you talk about her. Will link to the hand glove thing if you feel it would be of help?

tkband3 Tue 06-Oct-09 11:28:24

DH's dad died nearly 3 years ago. DD1 just about remembers him, but the DTs were too young and hadn't seen him much before he died because he was too ill.

We say that he has died because he was very ill and although we are not a religious household, the girls believe that he lives with the angels and god and jesus (they pick up on these things at Christmas). They are very open about this fact with DH's mum who, I think, finds it comforting in a way. They've taken recently to calling him their 'god-grandad' because he lives with god.

Wags Tue 06-Oct-09 11:28:34

He even, but we would love to hear about her as well smile

Linnet Tue 06-Oct-09 11:29:06

My mum died when my dd1 was a few months old. I've always just said that she lives in heaven and have told dd2 the same thing. We are not religious in any way but I tell them that she is in heaven so as to give them a sense of her being somewhere that isn't here.

Dd2 has asked a few questions about why she isn't here and when my geat uncle died a few months ago she talked about how he is now in heaven with my mum and various other relatives.

furrycat Tue 06-Oct-09 11:36:35

Our dc lost two grandparents (one from each side) before they were born. My older son has my late dad's name as his middle name and when he asked me about it I simply said his grandad was very special and it was sad they never met, so I thought it was nice to give him his name.

They know their grandparents died beacuse they were very poorly. Unfortunately my older son keeps asking me enthusiastically whether his other grandma and grandad are going to die soon too.

WartoScreamo Tue 06-Oct-09 11:49:33

I'm not religious, but when my mum died when I was 4, I was told that she had gone to heaven. I found this quite comforting in many ways so have told dd that there's where she is.

She's never really asked any questions til recently (had another thread recently about new school being near the grave yard). So she understands now, I think, that people and animals are buried in the ground when they die and they have a headstone to remember them by.

We went into a cathedral on Sunday, and little a candle for Nanny and I took the opportunity to explain about about what churches are and the fact that some people believe in God (who lives in Heaven) and say prayers to him.

I think she has got God mixed up with Fairy Godmothers though, and is imagining Nanny flying about in Heaven casting magic spells.

theyoungvisiter Tue 06-Oct-09 11:54:40

thank you for all the responses - and especially for the article link madrush (which I will have to read when I have more time but it looks great.)

Wags that is a very good idea about calling her by a name. It's really obvious now you make the point, but I suppose I haven't done that because she was never "nanny" to me, so I have tended to refer to her by that, I've explained that she was "my mummy". And perhaps it's easier to say "nanny died" rather than "my mummy died" - which is probably more scary for DS and, to be honest, is still hard for me to say, even 5 years on.

Very sad to hear that so many other people are dealing with this - although it's comforting too.

It's new territory for me as I didn't lose any grandparents until I was 28 (after my mum died in fact), so it's not something I've had experience with first hand. DH, on the other hand, lost his maternal grandmother before he was born, but the family never talk about her - he didn't even know her name when I asked sad - so I suppose that has strengthened my determination to make my mother part of the children's lives.

Thanks again for all the advice, the other perspectives are so helpful.

Sunshinemummified Tue 06-Oct-09 11:58:00

My mum died when I was 18 (21 years ago) and I've struggled with how to deal with this so as DS (3) hasn't asked yet, I haven't said anything. DD has my mum's name as her middle name and I would like to talk about her and show them pictures of her, but I do worry that they will get upset by the idea of death.

Apparently we have a homework book that will come to us at some point that talks about a grandparent dying so it will be interesting to see what questions come out of that.

MrsSnoops Tue 06-Oct-09 11:59:24

My Dad died when I was a child and my Mum has remarried, so DS and DD have Grandma and Grandad, but obviously Grandad isn't my Dad. I tend to mention my father as their Grandfather and have said that he was my Dad, but to be honest DS (3) hasn't seemed bothered or phased by it or asked any questions, such as where he is now!

I grew up with no Grandpa's as they both died before I was born and I don't remember it ever being a problem.

Kids just accept their family as they are don't they?

theyoungvisiter Tue 06-Oct-09 12:08:49

very inappropriate but "Unfortunately my older son keeps asking me enthusiastically whether his other grandma and grandad are going to die soon too" did make me rofl grin

FimbleHobbs Tue 06-Oct-09 12:11:26

My DC (3 and 4) know quite a bit about death and they seem to handle the fact that 'some' parents die quite easily so your DC might surprise you.

It helps that I am religious so easier to explain I guess. My mum died when I was small and DC know her as 'Nanna in Heaven'. They do occasionally get confused and check if 'Nanna in London' is alive or not wink

fishie Tue 06-Oct-09 12:14:47

dh's mum died before ds was born. ds is clearly a bit worried about dh not havnig a mummy, so he hasn't asked too many questions. we have explained that she died before he came, as did our dog and there are pics of them around. he asks more about the dog, it is easier for him.

theyoungvisiter Tue 06-Oct-09 12:52:03

well I think our cat is on its last legs so maybe that will prompt the conversation!

I agree with what everyone has said about children accepting their family as is, but I suppose I am worried because I still find it a very raw subject, and I am worried about conveying that upset to DS unintentionally.

giantwickerstacks Tue 06-Oct-09 12:57:41

I told my ds when he asked that my mum was dead and that she lives in my head (memory) now and when I want to think about her there she is. It has worked since for dead animals and friends who have emigrated to australia iyswim.

He occasionally asks (as we are walking through graveyards) 'Is your mummy buried here?' and also went through the stage of asking if other people are going to die but he has been ok with it.

I didnt want to do the whole heaven thing either but understand why people do...

I think thats its ok btw to show dcs that it does upset us - my ds will say 'it makes you sad that your mummy isnt here doesnt it?' and I just say yes - I think its good for their emotional development really.

seeker Tue 06-Oct-09 12:57:41

My children lost one grandfather before either of them was born and the other when they were 2 and 7. We talk about both of them a lot, we have always shared stories and looked at pictures. We have a framed photo of each of them on a shelf and we keep important bits of paper behind Grandad or Grandpa!

I don't ever say "in Heaven". But I do talk a lot about they cycle of life. It helps that my mother, who is very old, is a humanist, and has always talked very openly to all her grandchildren about people dying and people being born and life going on and living on in memories.

Sorry for these scrambled thoughts!

BrokenBananaTantrum Tue 06-Oct-09 12:57:53


My DD has a "special grandad" who lives in heaven. Even if you are not religiuos i do not think it is a problem telling chldren that dead relatives are in heaven. For them heaven is just another place but one that they can't go and visit. It does not have the links with religion that it does for you so I see no harm in it.

Children do need reassurance about these sorts of things. My DD is very interested in heaven and will special grandad know it's raining today etc.

Hope you find an explanation you can live with

pagwatch Tue 06-Oct-09 12:59:40

My dad dies when my DD was two. She remembered him for a while but has to look at pictures now to remember anything about him. She went to his funeral too but obviously can't remember that.
i think that whilst it was tough it was actually very healthy long term. She has seen me cry, understands that I miss him, understands that my mum misses him and that we ultimately lose people.
We have had the moments where she realsied that DH and I will die - like many children she has decided to ignore the logical leap that one day she will too smile.

She understands it is the way ofthings. Children are resilient about loss. They acceptthe concept of loss quite easily I think. Once it is their personal loss that is harder but children are not capeable of projecting or reaching complex conclusions.

I dpon't think this whole OP is an issue really. Your mum dies, you are sad, people die.
It is not hard for children to accept without being upset. You could show her pictures of great grandparents and for her their deaths will be equally remort experiences.

theyoungvisiter Tue 06-Oct-09 13:03:59

I like Giantwickerstack's idea of saying that they live in your head in your memories.

I don't think I could go the heaven route. Not because I think it would do any harm or anything, but it just doesn't sit right with me, because I don't believe it, so it would feel like telling lies to my child which I try never to do.

I even have problems with things like Father Christmas, but have rationalised that by telling myself that I am just participating in an extended imaginary game. Luckily DS has never actually asked me outright if he exists - I don't know what I would say if I had to tell an outright fib!

pagwatch Tue 06-Oct-09 13:04:02

The odd thing about my dads death was that DD 'saw' him for ages afterwards and would keep telling me that grandad came to see her. My DS2 also saw him which is harder to explain as DS2 has severe SN so is not actually capeable of making stuff up

Then grandma came to stay and told DD that grandad was a robin from our garden who kept coming into our haousehmm. She only stopped when I told DD that it wasn't grandad as he would know better than to shit on the dining table

feetheart Tue 06-Oct-09 13:15:04

Fully agree that children accept the family they live in as ours is rather complicated!
My dad died when I was 7 and my mum remarried 6 years later, DH's dad died before we met and his mum died when DD was 16mths. So we have Granny Barbour and Grandpa Sam who are alive, Grandpa Paul (my dad) who is dead and Granny Neale and Grandpa Theo (DH's parents) who are dead.
DC are 3 and 6 and although there is the occasional confusion as to which parent belongs to who they do very well and aren't phased at all. They do ask questions at times but we have always been very open about death and talk openly about all the grandparents.

We also have adoption in the mix and they just accept it all as it is - very adaptable creatures children

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