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Breaking news of death...

44 replies

Tissy · 08/07/2002 09:02

Sorry if this topic has cropped up elsewhere, but I've done a search, and couldn't find it.

My MIL has recently died after suffering with lung cancer for two years. Dd is only 6 mos, so we don't have to break the news to her, but I'm sure the situation will crop up again at some point as she has another 3 grandparents to go!!

Dd's cousins, 3 and 4 , were told that Granny has gone to live with Jesus, and seem relatively accepting of the idea, but I have problems with this as an explanation!

How have you all coped with this situation? Is there a way of creating a positive impression, even for a very young child? I realise that we should allow sadness, as its something that we're all going to have to cope with. Do you think that children should go to funerals? (Dd came and had a great time in the cemetery as she loves people and trees (!), the older grandchildren didn't).

OP posts:

bee · 08/07/2002 10:34

Hi Tissy - I am so sorry to hear your news. Hope you are feeling OK.

My mother died just before I got married, and a couple of years before my children were born. So like you I had to explain her absence at some time (when they were about 2 or 3 they started asking if I had a mummy too). I said that I used to have a mummy, but she got very ill (by the way she had cancer too) and the doctors couldn't make her better. So she died, and now it doesn't hurt her any more.

I have a couple of photos of her in the house and the children refer to her as Grandma Josephine. I wanted her to be part of their family history even if she wasn't a real memory for them.

That has all been fine, and I think they handled it really well. The hardest bits for me came when my father found a new partner (who I like a lot, btw) and they asked whether she was going to be my new mummy. I was unprepared for that and burst into tears. But I didn't hide that from the children, it's OK for them to know that I loved my mother and I still miss her.

Funerals - I really don't know about that. I liked your story of having your DD play outside - it means she isn't excluded but neither is she forced into a situation of tears and grief that she may not be able to cope with. With your DD, it seems she made her own choices. As a rule of thumb, I would say under 5s dont need to to be in the church, over 5s its up to them. But I don't know really.

I'm sure you'll handle it OK, you sound so thoughtful.


WideWebWitch · 08/07/2002 11:45

Tissy, so sorry to hear about your MIL. This is a hard one. My dad died last year (lung cancer too) when ds was 3 and a half.

Despite asking my mum (ds was staying there at the time) NOT to tell ds that Grandad had died because I wanted to do it myself (they were close), my stepdad jumped in and told him while I was 20 miles away at the hospital. I was furious since I had wanted to tell him and try to explain. I picked ds up the next day and was able to answer some of his questions.

We had lots of questions about death then and since: If we got on a plane would we be able to see Grandad? Can we never see him again? Can you think when you're dead? Do you miss him? etc and I've answered them as best I can. I've explained that, in my case, Grandad believed in God and heaven and thinks he will always be with us. In answer to the question "do you believe that?" I've been honest and said I'm not sure and that people believe different things. I (despite my agnosticism) have said that maybe he is being looked after in heaven since I think this is a reassuring concept for ds at nearly 5.

I didn't take ds to the funeral since I knew I would be in a complete state and didn't want him to see me distraught. I needed to grieve and say goodbye there privately and for me this was the right thing to do. Ds has seen me cry about this though, a lot, and I don't think it's a bad thing.

My ex-Dh's family are Hindu and much more accepting of death since they believe in reincarnation so ds is getting other views on life and death from them too. Theirs must be very reassuring: death is not the end. Good luck, HTH.


bundle · 08/07/2002 12:06

Tissy - re: taking small ones to funeral, I read,11913,746538,00.htmlarticle in the the Observer, about a humanist funeral, but was most struck by how upsetting it sounded for the child involved. tricky one.


Azzie · 08/07/2002 13:06

Hi Tissy,

This has been very much in my thoughts this week. My grandfather is dying of cancer - I learnt this last week when I was home with the children. I couldn't help bursting into tears, and my ds (who is 4 3/4 yo) asked me what was wrong. I told him that great-grandad was very sick and was going to die, and he gave me a great big cuddle because I was sad, and he was absolutely lovely about it all.

I've talked about death with ds - he knows that my daddy died before he was born, and that I still miss him very much. We've also talked all about funerals, and what happens to the body after you die - it seems a bit gruesome sometimes, but I try and answer his questions as matter-of-factly as possible. As to what happens after you die, I struggle with that one too, being an atheist. I've tried to explain that different people believe different things (he has a Hindu friend, as well as Christian ones), but that I don't know what happens. I don't know how much he understands, but I think that the best thing to do is to explain as much as possible. Me being upset doesn't seem to upset him too much as long as he understands why - I think he'd be more thrown by me being mysteriously not myself.

As to going to the funeral, I don't think I'll take him when my grandfather dies - his relationship with him is not that close. However, if it was one of his grandmothers (i.e. my Mum or MIL) then I think I would take him.

As a crawling baby we took him to my Uncle's funeral. He loved the singing, and reminded us all by his presence that life goes on.


threeangels · 08/07/2002 13:42

Hi Tissy, I do beleive in taking small children to funerals as long as they are old enough to sit quiet though. My 2 oldest 12 and 9 just attended their first viewing and funeral for a man at our church. At first I was not sure but I realized everyone in the church that I knew personally were bringing their kids. I realizied that I want them to understand death and what takes place after one dies. Not just heaven. It was a sad but a good experience for them. I thought they would freak out but they were fine. Young kids dont seem to be affected as much as we think. When a child is around 3 and 4 I beleive in telling the truth about life and death. I mean about what happens when we die. I dont think thats too young to explain in a little more detail. They can be good listeners with good questions. When I was 10 and my db was 6 my dad passed away from a heart attack. We both attended the viewing but my mom did not take us to the funeral. I think she thought it would be too much. I do remember crying for a little bit but then While everyone else was saying goodbuy I remember running around with my cousins like everthing was normal. I never seemed affected at this age. I just feel its better to prepare a child when they are young so they will know what to expect if and when anyone else close to us ever passes away. I only just came to this decision myself.


SueDonim · 08/07/2002 15:27

I've had to deal with similar situations, too. I think all we can do is tell children what we believe and what other people might believe. I think it's best to keep everything brief but be ready to answer questions.

As for funerals, we've taken two of ours as babies, where indeed they lightened the proceedings. For older children I think maybe you need to try to gauge how the mood will be. Even when my dad died, the funeral wasn't gloomy, more a celebration of his very long life. I certainly wouldn't stop a child who wanted to attend a funeral, in case they thought there was something horrible and mysterious about it and thus became scared.


PamT · 08/07/2002 15:47

I wasn't taken to my dad's funeral when I was 8, nor my grandma's when I was 16. The first funeral I attended was my SILs husband when I was 24. I didn't know what to expect and was absolutely knocked for 6 by all the emotion. I don't think I would take my children to a funeral until they were older, but I don't really know how old is old enough. I think the most distressing thing for me when attending family funerals is to see my own mum crying.

As I type this now, our hamster is dragging itself around the cage and hardly able to breath, so I'm going to have to break some bad news to the kids tomorrow no doubt. I know that its hardly in the same league but it will still be difficult to do.


pudding · 08/07/2002 18:27

Hi Tissy

Sorry to hear about the news. My father died a couple of years ago when my DS was 2 - we still have discussions about him now (I am keen to keep his memory alive).

Yes, I've had the chat about him going to live with Jesus - as to the explanation why, I explain that grandad was ill and Jesus wanted to make him better so took him to heaven.

I get the question "why can't I see him anymore?" to that I answer is that heaven is such a wonderful place that he decided to stay, but he is looking over us and is with us everyday in our hearts, because he loves you very much.

Hope this helps


Binker · 08/07/2002 18:28

my younger brother died from cancer at the age of 10 (I was 13) and my youngest brother would have been about 6. We didn't go to the funeral - there was no discussion about whether we should go or not - it was just thought better that we stayed at home with our grandmother. I think that this was probably a mistake as I chose to carry on as normal without really acknowledging his death and as a consequence I think I suffered quite a bit from not dealing with it at the time. He died at home during the night and I remember my dad collecting me from the bus after school and breaking the news to me as we walked home - it was a big shock-although he'd been ill for some months and was nursed at home and I'd seen just how very poorly he was. When we got home I couldn't bring myself to see his empty bed. I wish,now with hindsight,that I'd been talked to more about it-perhaps before he died- and maybe had the chance to see him afterwards.It was very hard to grasp his being there and then not.
I was also very worried about my friends at school knowing what had happened,so I didn't let anyone know (obviously my teachers knew). I think I was really afraid of being thought of as 'different',or treated differently. I was very aware of death and became a bit obsessed by it - I read Jessica Mitford's 'The American Way of Death' endlessly and would ride up to the crematorium on my bike quite often. I have no idea how my brother felt about it - perhaps everyone thought he was too young to understand (mind you he was 6,so he would have felt a very great deal - I'm shocked now at how little we've spoken about it since)
I know a lovely book called Frog and the Birdsong by Max Velthuis(spelled that wrong I think)- very simple,but explains the way life goes on very charmingly.


PamT · 08/07/2002 19:00

I couldn't bear to see the poor hamster suffer any longer so I took him to the vets and had him put to sleep. I think I was more upset than the children, DD(3) didn't really understand, DS2(6) asked lots of questions and DS1 (9) was more cross because we hadn't brought the body home for a funeral than anything else, meanwhile I couldn't stop crying but that's just me.

Its not quite the same as people dying which is what the thread is really about but its still sad and still confronts the death issue.


Mopsy · 08/07/2002 19:35


Yup I've been there; ds is now 10 and over the years we've had a menagerie of hamsters, gerbils, rats and cats, and I've always been the one that's been distraught when they finally gave up the ghost.

A couple of ours didn't make it back from the vet, but we held a ceremony of remembrance in the garden all the same even though there was no body to bury. This seemed to really help, each member of the family talked for a short while about what they had felt about the pet, their favourite memories of it and their thanks that we had been privileged to have been the ones to look after it.

Thinking of you


Kia · 08/07/2002 20:01

A colleague of mine lost her baby today. She had 5 weeks to go. This morning she had what I can only describe as that 'internal' look, that women get when they go into labour - I hope you know what I mean. I asked her if she was Ok and she said that she was in a bit of pain. I laughed and said 'don't have that baby in the office'. I offered to take her home, but she wouldn't let me. She did decide to go home early and this afternoon we got a call from her dh saying she had lost the baby. I'm stunned. In my own mind I felt sure that a baby 5 weeks from delivery could survive, but perhaps there were other complications.

My advice for telling children about death is to talk about the person how they were in life, however hard it is. Don't just clam up because it's painful. My SIL took all her kids to the chapel of rest when both FIL and BIL (her husband) died. I didn't, it's a personal thing I suppose; but neither set of cousins seem worse/better off for the experience.


jenny2998 · 08/07/2002 21:25

My Grandma who my ds (aged 3 1/2) adored died earlier this year. I told him that she had died because she was an old lady and that she was ill and now no longer suffering. I explained that no one really knows what happens when we die, but that there were various theories. I went into a few of them and told him that he should beleive whatever made him happy and to remember that she was at peace now. We talked about how much she loved him and how we'd never forget her. We talk about her all the time and he often asks questions about her, and says how much heloved/misses her.

I just think it's very important to talk about the person whenever the child asks and just to be honest. I don't know if that helps...


XAusted · 08/07/2002 21:27

That poor woman! To lose a baby so close to being full-term.

My dd (5) is absolutely fascinated by death (ever since the Queen Mum died) and is full of questions. I've tried to answer all of her questions very simply and matter-of-factly. She is also very worried about being eaten up by crocodiles!! As Christians, we also get lots of questions about heaven, eg, can you get there in a car or do you have to go by plane.

I have never been to a funeral, even though I'm 31 and have had plenty of opportunities. I wasn't taken to my mum's funeral when I was 8 and somehow I've never been brave enough to go to one.


IDismyname · 08/07/2002 22:24

We've lost a grandpa and a great granny in the last year.

Ds, aged 2 and a half attended the memorial service for grandpa, and lightened things up considerably charging up and down catheral aisle; people said that it was a good reminder to them all that Life goes on.

For both deaths, I've explained that they have gone up to heaven. Angels come down and collect them, and take them up. When they're up there, they have a lovely time with their friends, and do spend a lot of time looking down checking that ds is behaving himself!

My first funeral was when i was about 16; I'd have hated to have had ds with me last week at my grandmothers funeral. Far too much sadness for him to cope with... and I ahven't really got down to explaining the nitty gritty of what happens to the body. Confronted with a coffin, I'd have been at a complete loss.

MIL wants her body to go to medical research (she's busy trying to pickle it already...) and THEN what explanation do I use??!!


susanmt · 08/07/2002 22:36

Kia, that is so sad about your colleage losing her baby, it made me cry.
I havent had to face death with my daughter yet, she's only 2+5 months.
Luckily I have a strong faith and so will be able to tell her what I beleive happens when people die. I remember a school friend who died of Leukeamia when I was about 8 and the teacher had to break the news to our class. She told us that she had died, and wasn't hurting any more, and that it was ok to be sad and miss her but that she wouldn't have wanted us to be sad forever. I think I'll bear that in mind when I have to talk to her about death.
What worries me more is my dh! He is 32 and has never been bereaved. His granny is now 90 and slowly sliding downhill - I'll have to cope with that when it happens.


winnie1 · 09/07/2002 12:38

Kia, how awfully sad.

I have to say that I believe it is very important that children grow up realising that death is a part of life. I hate the way death is dealt with, swept under the carpet and depersonalised. I think that in Britain we do not talk about death enough. I take my children to funerals and recently at my own fathers funeral several people commented that they were glad that we had brought the children (despite the fact that our toddler chuckled and wriggled all through the service). I was very concerned about my daughter who was twelve and very close to her grampy (his death was completely unexpected) but despite her own devastation and that of mine and my sibling she says that she is glad that she went. She also choose music for the commital and she was very glad of that, choosing a lively pop record that her and my father loved adn boogied together to. I asked her if she wanted to go to the chapel of rest but she didn't and we left it at that. I wanted her to have the choice. Of course it depends on the children but I think it is a really bad idea to hide ones grief from them. We are only human after all.


waverly · 09/07/2002 15:10

I wonder if you think I am doing the right thing?

My son's great grandmother died when he was 6 years old. He didn't know her well, but she had sent him lots of cards, letters and little presents through the post. She lived 400 miles away from us and was in poor health, but mentally was extremely alert. We were due to visit her - lots of letters about this exchanged hands - and it was near to my son's birthday, so he was going to get a very special birthday kiss from great granny.

However, a week before the visit, she died suddenly. We later found out she had taken an overdose of medication and, from tell tale preparations in her house, it looked like her death was intentional. I cannot think of any good reason for ever telling my son this. I'm sure it would not hurt him hugely, but it might well play on his mind. Instead I will concentrate on telling him about her life. I think this is one occasion when a white lie is called for, but I'd welcome any thoughts on this.


WideWebWitch · 09/07/2002 16:40

Waverley, I agree with you: he doesn't need to know.


Kia · 10/07/2002 12:09

My assistant is still in hospital, and they've told us that she will not be having any visitors for quite a while yet. I cannot imagine what could have happened. We keep asking ourselves if we could have done anything differently that could have saved the baby, but short of calling an ambulance the moment she walked in to work. I dont know.

She is one of these woman that cannot rest for worrying the domestic police will be round to do a spot check to see if they can eat off the toilet seat. She wouldn't take rest and was saving up to buy something for her house and would not leave work earlier than the very day she had paid for it. I'm so angry, I feel I could say all the things we're all thinking - about priorities, but I wont because I'm sure it's nothing she wont have said to herself and worse since Monday.

This has made me more and more determined to value what I actually have and try to stop life passing me by because I didn't take a positive interest and action in today, and to stop reacting to what other people think of me or might be thinking of me or my actions.

I could howl at the moon at her and for her. Sorry, rant over.


winnie1 · 10/07/2002 13:38

Oh Kia, I am sending you a cyber hug because I really do understand how you are feeling. It is such a shock and you are so right; we take so much for granted.

A very similar thing happened to a very good friend of mine (we worked together too and she'd been on her feet all day on the day)she never slowed down or made any allowances for herself despite being pregnant she always thought of others and she was so looking forward to being a mum and she would have made such a great mum too. Her baby survived only a few hours and she has been through hell because of their loss. As someone on the outside one is deeply effected by such a tragedy and feels utterly helpless... I think any faith I'd ever had completely left me at that point as I could never ever understand any point to it. A 'reason' was never found and my dear friend lives daily with the what ifs... I've tried to be here for my friend and we have done a huge amount of talking, most importantly I try never to ignore the fact that she is a mother without her child and that she has been through pregnancy and labour too. It is several years later, but she still blames herself, which is ridiculous (but human).


Mopsy · 10/07/2002 14:27

Errr, Kia and Winnie, am I completely getting the wrong end of the stick here? For all your concerns and empathy for these women who have tragically lost their babies, you do seem to be implying that they brought it on themselves.

Please tell me I'm wrong.


Gracie · 10/07/2002 15:35

Surely working or any reasonable physical exertion wouldn't have anything to do with a baby being stillborn?


tigermoth · 10/07/2002 16:24

Winnie, I thought your phrase 'she's a mother without her child' was so touching and true. I had never thought of it this way before.

When you hear stories like yours and Kia's, it does make you so grateful for what you have.

I don't know if there is any link between stillbirth and mothers not taking things easy. I just hope that the medical staff treat these bereaved mothers with the utmost sensitivity.


PamT · 10/07/2002 16:38

I think it is in our nature to do 'too much' sometimes when we are pregnant. A week before DS2 was born (emergency section for placenta praevia when I started bleeding) I had a small bleed and decided that I needed to get my hospital bag necessities. This meant that I had to catch a bus with a 3 yr old to lift on and off as well as 3 bags full of nappies, formula milk, toiletries etc. Perhaps I was taking too many risks but nobody else was going to fetch the stuff for me.

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