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Remembrance: Talking with Kids about Loved Ones Who Have Died

Inspired by this week's Parents Talk, I discuss Memorial Day and remembering my grandmother with my kids.

Last night, after dinner out, our family took a walk through Menard’s. Goofy or not, this is entertainment for us. We were looking at new grills and on the way to the front of the store, passed by a display of plastic Memorial Day flowers. My kids were drawn to the bright colors, calling, “Look, Mom! Bouquets of flowers!”

And then my son, who is in first grade, read, “Cemetery Flowers for Memorial Day” on the sign.

“What’s Memorial Day?” he asked, his face turned up with curiosity.

“Well, it is a special day where lots of people visit cemeteries and leave flowers for people they have loved that have died.”

“Like G.G.?”

“Yes, love, like G.G.”

G.G. is short for Great Grandma and she was my father’s mother; she died last February.

“Oh … I miss G.G., Mom.” His head dipped and he came close to me, burying his face in my side. I kissed his straw-colored hair and held him a moment.

“I do, too, buddy.”

He blinked back tears as he asked if we could take flowers to her gravesite. I told him I thought that would be lovely and that her favorites were gardenias, so we should look for those.

My older kids remember her funeral. They remember the funeral parlor and all of my cousins and all of my cousins’ kids and the laughter and the joy and the sadness. They remember me lumbering up to the podium to deliver the eulogy, seven months pregnant with the twins. I forgot how big my belly was and almost knocked the podium over when I stepped too close. As sad as that moment was, there was life blooming all around. I was pregnant, my sister-in-law was pregnant, and two of my cousins were pregnant.

We explained to the kids that G.G. had gotten very sick and that her body was old and could not fight off the germs. We told them that she knew she was loved and that she loved us and them and that love will always be there.  We murmured that our hearts were sad now, but also very, very happy because we were so lucky to have had G.G. in our lives.

And they were OK with that.  My daughter was three-and-a-half at the time and didn’t really understand what was going on, but knew that all of my family gathering could only mean lots of love to go around. My son was very inquisitive, asking to see G.G. in her casket, gently touching her hand and whispering a simple, “Goodbye, G.G.” He, too, seemed to intuit that we were gathered in love and that our tears were not something to fear, that loss is the natural counterpart to love.

We told him, “It’s OK to be sad. I’m sad, Daddy is sad, too. Grandpa is very, very sad. We won’t always be sad, though, because we can remember how much fun we had with her and how much we love her always.”

My grandmother’s kind face hangs on our walls in several photos. My children talk about her occasionally, remembering how she gamely played Star Wars guys with my son or snuck my daughter chocolate when she thought I wasn’t looking. Her presence is with us in a myriad of small ways – my daughter says frequently, “I love strawberries because G.G. did, Mom” and my son holds a figurine from her house reverently, smiling as he says, “I’m so glad that this is ours now, Mom!”

As we were checking out at Menard’s, my son pulled me low and said, “I wish G.G. could have met the babies. I think she would have loved them as much as she loved me.”

I’m pretty sure she would have, too.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jody Gifford May 02, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Courtney, this is a beautifully written post. Thank you. I'm just starting to have this conversation with my own children after the recent death of their great grandpa. I'm focusing on some of the very things you've mentioned here. It's reassuring to know that someone has followed a similar path in explaining such a difficult situation.
Courtenay Baker-Olinger May 02, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Thank you, Jody -- many condolences on your loss, too.

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