This past July, I lost my father to cancer. He was a father in the truest sense of the word: protector, advisor, life investor, moral compass, champion.
This loss came after a long journey of witnessing his climbs and descents, as well as the grace and strength he carried through his debilitating disease. I was privy to sweet moments of wordless exchanges of love through the gazes of my parents and experienced heart wrenching times of body shaking sobs as I lay next to this man of great stature in his hospital bed.
I learned of an inner strength within me that I have managed to preserve and utilize as I have experienced difficult things in motherhood. And I’m glad I have another opportunity to share those experiences with you. But this article is not about my grief; it is about how we helped my children through theirs.
We live next door to my parents, and my children experienced a real-life fairytale relationship with their grandparents: late night jigsaw puzzles, trips to frozen yogurt, lessons on back flips in the pool, backyard camping, magic shows, etc. The loss of their grandpa hit them hard.
Loss is not something unique to our family, but through our experience I hope to share with you the little things we did to help my children through the loss of their sweet grandpa.
Because I knew what I believed, I was ready for their questions.
In the midst of your own grief, I am sure questions have come into your mind such as, “Why are we here on Earth? What happens after I die? Will I see my loved one again?” They will come into the minds of your children as well. Most likely accompanied by,“ Will I die? Will you die?“
Creating moments of stillness to ponder these questions and their answers on my own and examining what I believed was of great value to my own grieving process. And it gave me a renewed confidence to answer the sincere inquiries of my children.
When the questions came, I tried my best to stop what I was doing and create an environment that allowed for discussion. I tried to explain my beliefs at their level of understanding and was amazed when they asked deeper questions than I might have imagined.
I observed each child’s way of grieving.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was, when I observed how differently each of my children dealt with the loss of their grandpa. One was very open with his thoughtful questions, and another silently kept to himself with only quiet tears to reveal his grief. It was up to me to attend to this silent griever, to hold him, and to see if he wanted to talk or not. I listened to my heart to know which topics would bring each of them the comfort and security they needed.
I relied on people I trusted to help with their care.
It was a breath of fresh air when I allowed others to take care of my children for an afternoon or a day. Those selected to care for them sought to fill their world with life and the glees of carefree childhood at a most difficult time. Witnessing the service of others on behalf of my children created a tremendous impact on their hearts and mine.
We created family time away.
We forged out time to go on day trips and vacations as a family. Being removed from everyday obligations and realities freed us to just enjoy being together. It was difficult for me to not place guilt upon myself for enjoying family time without my Daddy. We had to continually emphasize that Grandpa would want us to be happy. Laughter, silliness, and playing together did wonders in healing.
We remembered our loved one.
My children wanted to preserve their relationship with Grandpa. They were so fearful of forgetting him, and they wanted to feel close to him. So, we displayed photos of them together in their bedroom and family room. We looked through photos and watched home videos together. I made sure to point out gifts or other special objects that connected them to Grandpa and reminded them how much they were loved by him.
We sang and danced to Grandpa’s favorite songs. We wrote down their favorite stories of them together. We visited the gravesite together. Some of the most touching experiences I have shared with my children have been at Grandpa’s gravesite.
Also, one of my dear friends, upon the loss of her father, had each child release a helium balloon into the sky making its way to heaven. I plan on doing this at the year anniversary of my Daddy’s passing.
We celebrated and continued traditions.
On my Daddy’s 58th birthday, we chose to celebrate together as family and close friends just as he would have enjoyed: miniature golf, ping pong, the pool, Thai food, and mint chocolate chip ice cream. We filled the day with activities he loved, family traditions, and, of course, his favorite foods.
It was a bittersweet celebration, but the kids loved basking in the things Grandpa loved. As each holiday has passed, it has been difficult to continue on with our family’s favorite traditions without my Dad, but it is essential for the children to feel that the best way to honor Grandpa is to carry on with the things that brought him joy.
In these times of sorrow, it has been most challenging to lay aside my own grief to address the needs of my children. But in helping them to heal, I found that I am healing as well. We’ve grieved together as I’ve held them tight. And I’ve looked to their resilient spirits for inspiration.
I’ve decided to let this difficult experience allow us to foster unity and strength within our family. Life can be sweet amidst the oh-so-very-bitter. My heart reaches out to you. You can survive this. You can and will.
QUESTION: What are some of the ways we can relate to our children in times of grief–whether it is the loss of a loved one, a skinned knee, or a bad day at school?
CHALLENGE: Don’t be shy about grief, and let your children express grief in their own way. Create memories with your family, and tell them the stories of their ancestors to help foster unity within your own family.
Images provided by Heather Bell.
Originally published January 27, 2014.
My heart is full reading your tender words and sharing how you found strength to help your children during a difficult time! My heart is grateful to have known this wonderful man and to see his family honor him in the way they choose to live! Love you all!!!!
Briana Johnson says
Thank you so much Melanie! You are very much a part of this article, reaching out so much with your love and willing hands to provide anything you could to help us through that time. I am honored to call you friend!!
Briana Johnson says
Thank you so much for the incredible women at Power of Moms! I have learned so much from so many of you. I am so honored that you would share this labor of love with those who may be helping their children heal as they are going through that difficult grieving process themselves. I hope it will reach out to give just a piece of comfort and provide something tangible for them to do during this most paralyzing of times. My deepest reachings go out to them!