My father in-law recently passed away and I had to tell my 3yo and 5yo. We had some notice that he would be passing away (he was diagnosed several months ago with lung cancer) so I tried to prepare my girls by reading Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie. We also read a social story called "What is Death."
The day granddad died I wrote another social story, and since then we've been reading a book called When I'm Feeling Sad by Trace Moroney (I can't praise the Trace Moroney When I'm Feeling series of books enough — they are fabulous).
I'd love to find out what other Parenthackers have done in similar situations. How to you help a grieving child? I'm particularly wondering about things to do other than reading books. My 3yo seems to have no understanding or care about Granddad being gone but she is clinging to particular toys and getting upset when things go missing. My 5yo has reverted to baby talk, is asking for toys she had as an infant (and surprising me with her memory of those toys) and is having potty accidents.
My sympathies are with you and your family, Marita. I admire all the work you've already done preparing and talking with your little girls — for so many, death is too overwhelming a topic to even address directly. In my experience, the more openly we can talk (and listen) to our kids about death, the better our children will cope with it. My kids' only experience with the loss of an elderly loved one was my uncle, to whom I was very close. We attended the funeral and they had lots of questions afterward — everything ranging from the physical specifics to our spiritual beliefs. We've talked a lot about it ever since.
For both of my kids, even before my uncle passed away, four years old was the moment they both became aware of their mortality and wanted to talk about it. I try to subscribe to the guideline "tell them as much as they are asking for, but no more." Their imaginations get the better of them on this topic, so I try to keep my explanations brief and comforting.
I'm not sure there is more you can do beyond giving them time. I wonder if a ritual, say, lighting a candle for your father in-law each week for as long as you feel necessary, or putting a picture of him out for everyone to see, would help give your five year-old a way to channel her grief and confusion?
Parenthackers, do you have a story to share?
Related: Parenting without one's own mother