Nearly four years had passed since Karyn Slomski, a Boston mom, was diagnosed with cancer, and she had learned several days earlier that the final treatment wasn’t working. She gathered her family in the living room to be recorded in a video so that years from now, her two young children Brendan and Maggie, now 7 and 4, will be able to see her smile, listen to her sing, and hear her words.
On Aug. 26, Karyn sat in her living room for one more interview, a chance to offer last thoughts. “This experience has helped me to try new things, join new things, remember the things that I love to do, like sing and dance,’’ she said. “Those things have fulfilled me unbelievably. Without these experiences, I would have been happy, but I wouldn’t have known happiness on a whole different level. That was the gift this gave to me.’’
Karyn went on to say, “I will miss just being a mom, that feeling of, they know you’re there, they know you’re going to be there after school, they know there will be a snack.” “I wanted to be there for that routine until they didn’t need me.’’ she said.
It goes without saying that death is an inescapable part of life. As adults, we’ve learned how to deal with it, however imperfectly. As inconsolable as our grief may be, we go on living even though we know that things will never be the same again and a precious part of ourselves is lost forever. On the other hand, children, especially young children, are yet to know the facts about death and its accompanying feelings of loss, grief, fear, anger and guilt. As a consequence, death may be overwhelming for them.
For the other parent of grandparent, the best approach of course depends on the age of the child, but there are some general guidelines which may be helpful regardless of the child’s age:
- Answer a child’s questions, but keep your answers brief and simple.
- Do not feel that you must provide all the answers.
- Be patient and consistent with answers if a child asks the same questions over and over.
- Listen to what the child says and how he or she says it.
- Don’t confuse young ones by using euphemisms for death (such as "rest" or "sleep").
- Help the child understand that the deceased is not going to “come back.”
- Reassure the child that death is a part of life, not a form of punishment. And be sure that the child does not feel at fault.
- Be careful about associating death with sickness because the child may become fearful about his or her own sicknesses.
- Be careful about saying that someone died because he or she was old. The child may become fearful about losing other “old” people and may have distorted ideas of age.
- Allow the child time and space to grieve, but understand that real grief will be delayed for some children.