Q: Nanny has been in the hospital for the past few weeks and is not likely to leave it. Her physician tells us that she is terminally ill and that she does not have much time left to be with us. All of us are sad, but we also recognize that Nanny is old and seems to be prepared to do what she has to do.
My problem is my four and a half year old son. He is really fond of his great-grandmother and I know he will miss her terribly when she passes. So what do I do with him when she goes? The last thing we want is to create a bad scenario for our little boy.
A: Your first task when an elder dies is to tell your son in a straightforward manner that she has died.
At four years old, your son will not understand the significance of death and dying and may well think that Nanny has simply gone away
It is best to say that she died, not that she passed, went to a better place or has gone for a long sleep.
He may not understand the full significance of her death but eventually he will begin to appreciate its permanence.
The more honest you are with him now, the more likely he will trust and appreciate you as his parent as he grows up.
Tell him you are sad and will miss his great-grandmother. Your sadness is his permission to also be sad.
Most of us do not enjoy watching our children struggle with sadness. We are inclined to protect them from distressing times but it is through sadness that children develop a profound appreciation for life. It is a valuable time in their lives.
Finally, remember that when a child is introduced to death and dying, his assumption that the world is always a safe place is challenged. Your boy may need to be reminded that his own being is secure.
You can do this for him by continuing with routines such as regular bed, play and meal times.
The more that you are able to keep the family structure in place, the better are the odds that he will recover from his great-grandmother’s death.