A Grandmother's Death and a Four Year Old
by Deb Sims, MS,RNCS,LCSW
Please help me explain to a four year old the sudden death of a grandmother. He is very close to her and knows nothing about death.
First, let me acknowledge how sorry I am for the grief everyone in the family must be feeling. I'm not sure, from the message forwarded, exactly to whom I'm responding. But I sense a great deal of compassion for this little boy. So if I'm responding to another family member, please just know my sympathy extends to you also; and my praise for your compassion and caring. You may think it odd that I say that, but years ago children were ignored in the grieving process, yet they hurt also.
Death is very hard to explain to a child, and at age four we don't always know how they are processing what we say. There's a wonderful little book put out by Pilgrim Press called "Water Bugs and Dragon Flies." You can find it at most Christian book stores but it is not for a particular religion. For whatever reason at the moment I can't find my copy to be able to give you the author's name. The book is meant for adults to read to children. The analogy of death is explained in the transformation of the waterbug to a dragonfly. The illustrations fit beautifully with the story, and the basic idea is that people who die aren't gone forever; they exist somewhere else. I can't do justice to the way the book portrays it, but I can tell you that both adults and children respond to this book. I've used it frequently with children as a starting place. Then you wait, encourage talking, and eventually the feelings will come out.
There are other very good books available, but this one works so well. Try your local Christian book store or your pastor; a lot of churches keep copies of it. If you have trouble getting it or if you have more questions, let me know. Further down the road you may wish to let him have something special of his grandmother's to remind him she'll always be remembered in his heart and he can continue to love her.
Thank you for letting me respond to this very important question.
Debbie Sims is a Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist in Adult Psychiatric Nursing, has a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She maintains a private practice in counseling but her devotion is to her position as Editor for Beyond Indigo an Internet web site for those who are grieving.