Mumsnet Logo
My feed

to access all these features


Advice on how to tell DSD

70 replies

Goingwiththeflow2019 · 22/12/2019 19:04

Hi all

Not an AIBU but looking for advice so posting for traffic here.

Last Saturday my partners grandad was taking to hospital following a fall and had been on the floor all night. He is in his 90s. Was taken to hospital and he went with them in the ambulance as we were at his parents when the call came through. We live 80 miles away but was visiting his parents for a family birthday.

His parents asked me Tuesday when I drove to visit them to let my partner know his grandads prognosis wasn't great. He needed an operation but he had a chest infection along with other complications so likely wouldn't recover and without, it was a waiting game. They didn't want to tell him over the phone so I done it face to face when I got in. Understandable, he was a mess.

We drove back over on the Wednesday so he could spend the day sitting/chatting to him whilst I stayed in the cafe area working. His grandad is very old fashioned and said he did not want any woman to see him this way so I wasn't being ignorant, I was respecting his wishes.

The DRs said he was responding well to treatment and they were hopeful he could be moved to a general ward.... my partner left feeling 'confident' (not sure how to describe how he was to be honest but it was somewhat better than when we went in)

Tonight his mum text to ask if we were in and asked if I could distract my DSD as his dad would be ringing him. I took her for a shower and brought some of her toys upstairs to play for a bit whilst they talked. She was so good and stayed upstairs whilst I went down to get a gauge on what was going on

On further tests this weekend they have found his grandad lung cancer and it's terminal - they reckon days although will do what they can to 'prolong' as it's Christmas but they won't be reviving. My partner is a sobbing mess.

After 15 minutes I had to call my DSD down to have dinner but called her straight to the dining room, gave her a task of setting the table (she is 5 but desperate to be treated like a big girl) and sat with her to eat her food whilst he was in the other room composing himself. After I have tried to keep it as normal as possible by watching films, chocolates and said her dad has drunk too much coffee so has a sore belly which is why he's not eaten with us and gone to lay down for a bit.

Now the tricky part - I am so sorry this is so long.

My DSD loves her great grandad. She knows he has been poorly since the summer as she's not been able to see him - we don't believe a hospital was the right environment for her so she never went but he was discharged in November and she's been so excited to see him on Christmas Day. She asks about him at least everyday and after knowing we went to see him Wednesday when she was in school as he is 'poorly' again, she spent Friday evening and Saturday morning making him two pictures.

How do we tell a 5 year old he has died when it happens?

We don't want to taint Christmas for her but the same time, I don't know if the family will keep their emotions in check by not crying when she innocently asks where he is on Christmas Day (we are driving over to partners parents after Santa's been)

Equally, DSD is visiting her mum tomorrow with pick up Christmas Eve lunchtime. If I was to let her mum know now what is going on, she will just tell DSD outright with no warmth about how she does this so I will need to inform her after it's happened - DSD mum and my partner don't communicate the best due to her behaviour so I am the go between. It works for us and works in the best interests of my DSD.

Has anyone any book recommendations or ways to break this sort of news to a 5 year old? She's never had to deal with death not even from a pet ....

OP posts:

DukeChatsworth · 22/12/2019 19:10

DD has lost 3 grandparents between ages 6 to 13.
Just tell her. Simple language. Not gone to sleep or passed away. Tel her he died. Children are amazingly resilient and if you give her a chance she’ll be accepting. She’ll be sad for a while and then she’ll move on. It gets harder as they get older ime.


londonrach · 22/12/2019 19:12

Im sorry You going with this at xmas and tbh any time. Theres a book about a dragonfire that helped us but cant remember the name.... im sure someone on here will come along soon with the name. It was a very magical story from memory


Aliceinunderland · 22/12/2019 19:14

Your DSD sounds lucky to have such a caring stepmum. I work with children and I would recommend 'the memory tree' book, another good one is Invisible string. If you search them on Amazon, they also suggest other titles.


ArranUpsideDown · 22/12/2019 19:15

Has DSD ever watch an animation in which a character has died?

Some reasonable advice here.


Aliceinunderland · 22/12/2019 19:15

Is it the dragonfly story? Lovely book


Teachermaths · 22/12/2019 19:16

Just tell her. In a child appropriate way.

I would warn her Christmas eve that he is very poorly and won't be with you Christmas day. Can you not tell her anything until she returns from mum's?


DangerousBeanz · 22/12/2019 19:19

My dd was 5 when my dm died. We were completely honest with her, she knew grandma was very poorly, she knew she wasn't going to get better and she was with her, as we all were as she passed away peacefully. She was very accepting and matter of fact, sad that she wouldn't see grandma anymore but not scared or traumatised at all.
Be honest and truthful in a way your DSD can understand and you'll be surprised how resilient she'll be.
There's a book called Badgers gifts that's nice, and someone bought my daughter one about Mog the cat where he dies that was lovely too.
Sending love.


DeathStare · 22/12/2019 19:20

This is a field I have worked in (children and bereavement). Please tell her BEFORE it happens not after. Prepare her for it. Ask her if there is anything she would like to send to him - a drawing perhaps. I know you said there are some issues with her mum, but it is really important that if at all possible your DSD has some preparation for this.


Yubaba · 22/12/2019 19:20

Lots of advice from winstons wish
They are a bereavement charity for children


Sunshineandeggshells · 22/12/2019 19:20

Take her to see him.


Kanga83 · 22/12/2019 19:21

We went through similar last Christmas when my eldest was 5. We had months to prepare her, but lots of nanny is old, and her body will stop working soon but the love in her heart and all the good goes to Heaven (Catholic family, I'm not but my daughter has quite a strong faith as does my husband). We explained nanny will watch over her from heaven and we read 'tell me about heaven grandpa rabbit' and 'paper dolls' (which I preferred to the the grandpa rabbit one). She wrote a letter for nanny to go to heaven and drew lots of pictures for her. Before she died we chose a picture of them both and a special frame for her room, so that when it happened, she had her picture in her room ready for comfort that yes physically gone, but always in spirit. We also named a star after nanny so that my kids can look up to the sky and see her.


Kanga83 · 22/12/2019 19:23

Also, if she's able to visit- take her. It will bring her more comfort that you think it might. Strangely, the night she passed away, we watched Moana as her grandma passes away in that and becomes the spirit ray. When she's feeling sad she always asks to watch it.


chumbawum · 22/12/2019 19:25

Just tell her. Death is part of life,

My 6yo DS great grandad died in the summer, we didn't sugar coat and he wanted to know al the details of what happens next - he was fascinated by it as well as sad.


LilQueenie · 22/12/2019 19:26

a visit to the hospital for her might not be so bad. A quick visit. See if the hospital has a way of helping children with loss. A lot of them do that now.


Goingwiththeflow2019 · 22/12/2019 19:29

Thank you all

We watched Coco in the summer and to be honest, we both cried at that. In Frozen 2 she was a bit water eyed when the girls parents came back in the ship scene. We've spoken about death a little when watching Annie as she wanted to know where their parents where but I feel it's so much harder when it's our own family

We sat her down Wednesday evening and did signpost great grandad was poorly again and is back in hospital. From what she has been saying since, she is expecting him to come back out again but she drew the two photos (glittery covered) for her dad to take to him.

We have discussed taking her to see him Christmas Eve afternoon but he is a very different looking man than when she last saw him. Very thin and sunken - it was heartbreaking for me to see him like that let alone it be the last time she saw him. My partner has rightly (in my view) said none of the kids under 10 in the family see him in this state.

I'll look into all of those books because anything to make it easier on her and her dad having to explain is going to be worth it. Going by everyone's advice, being open and transparent with her instead of sugarcoating is the best way to go

OP posts:

JoGose · 22/12/2019 19:31

I’d just tell her in a child appropriate way


RealBecca · 22/12/2019 19:31

I would explain hes poorly and likely to be in hospital over xmas and ask if she wants to write him a letter. Will be nice for him if he sees it and good for her to think about him and say some things on her mind. You can of course write it for her and have her sign it. X


MerryChristmasUfilthyanimal · 22/12/2019 19:34

Its fine for children to be sad and to grieve and to cry. Don't try and protect her front his.

GGD got very sick and died. Tell her how sad it is. Tell her how upset everyone is and how they're going to miss him.
Then just deal with the questions as they come.

Where's he gone?
His body is in the hospital it will be moved to X before the funeral.

Is he coming back? No he's died.

Will we see him again? No but we have lots of wonderful memories. Remember XYZ


MyCatScaresDogs · 22/12/2019 19:34

Sorry to hear about your DP’s grandad. We have had to handle this with DS twice now, aged 2.5 and almost 4. First time was easier as fewer questions given his age. He’s a bit funny about new/unfamiliar books so we didn’t use them.

The first death was my DGM who was visibly very unwell so lots of talk about how poorly DGM was and how she was very, very old and her body didn’t work well. When she died, it was pretty easy to explain that she died because she was really old and poorly and her body had stopped working, and it was sad because we would miss her, but it also meant she didn’t feel poorly any more.

More complicated was when DMIL died earlier this year, quite unexpectedly despite poor health. He was much more aware and asked a lot of questions, including about when we might die. I have taken the approach of answering factually but only answering explicitly what I’ve been asked, if you see what I mean. Eg “where is Granny now?” “At the hospital”. “Why?” “Because the doctors want to find out how she died.” The only thing I haven’t told him about is cremation because I felt that was a bit too much for him at this age. I have been honest that everyone dies but that it usually happens when people are very old and their bodies stop working.

I would definitely tell her sooner rather than later, as it will ease the actual death for her. I would also explain that Daddy is very sad because he loved Grandad very much, etc - I have had to do a certain amount of explaining with DS about this in relation to DMIL’s death and I think it’s no bad thing for them to understand adults have feelings too.


mummyofthreemunchkins · 22/12/2019 19:36

Children are extremely resilient, much more than we give them credit for. When we lost my mum my children came to the hospital to see her, brought her little gifts. Maybe if you felt comfortable taking her, she could take the pictures she has done for him, obviously that's a personal choice that you have to make. We also made a memory box with special things of mums in which they go to and look through quite regularly, its a comfort for them. Would also recommend a book called muddles, puddles and sunshine. It's a lovely memory book they work through. Thinking of you at this difficult time


BettysLeftTentacle · 22/12/2019 19:37

We had the same this time last year and her GGM, DD was also 5.

I really do believe straight forward honesty is the best policy. I said something along the lines of:
‘I’m afraid I’ve had some sad news. You know how GGM was very old and she hadn’t been been very well and had to go to hospital. Well unfortunately, she was too unwell to get better and she died today. It’s very sad and I’m very sorry.’ And then we were sad together and answered any questions she had. I also took her to the funeral which I think helped give her some closure. She wasn’t actually aware that GGM was going to die imminently and actually in hindsight, I think that was a good idea because I don’t think the anticipation would’ve done her any favours. So in your situation I’d probably not say anything until he’s gone.


IggyAce · 22/12/2019 19:39

It hard but please tell her before. When my ds was about 5 we received the news that nanny had terminal cancer, I told both dcs that she was old and very poorly and that there wasn’t anything doctors could do and that she would die.
We were lucky to have just over a year with her, at the end she was admitted to hospital for a chest infection we took the dcs to see her and she was in good spirits. However she took a turn and died two days later her death led to further questions from ds about what happens next, so be prepared for those too.


clareykb · 22/12/2019 19:39

Badgers parting gifts is a lovely book for this age group x


WitchDancer · 22/12/2019 19:41

We had Badgers Parting Gifts for my boys when their Granddad was dying from cancer, which helped. We were always truthful with them so it wasn't such a shock when he passed. Children are surprisingly resilient when dealing with death - if she's in school then let them know as there is a lot of support there that can help too.


Mrshue · 22/12/2019 19:43

Please please don’t stop her from visiting him in hospital. My grandfather died when I was 5. I wasn’t allowed to see him for those exact reasons. It’s not the right environment. He died. I also couldn’t go to the funeral

I’m 46 now. I’m still devastated by it. It really effected me.

Please create an account

To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.

Sign up to continue reading

Mumsnet's better when you're logged in. You can customise your experience and access way more features like messaging, watch and hide threads, voting and much more.

Already signed up?