This past February, my husband’s grandmother passed to the arms of Jesus after a long battle with cancer. As mothers, we have the added responsibility of not only handling our own grief, but helping our children deal with their grief as well. It’s a daunting task, and not one that any of us want to take on.
That’s far too often how the story goes, isn’t it? We live in a harsh world right now, and we feel that especially when the sting of death pierces our lives.
When my kids great-grandmother died, it was their first close experience with death. I know that many of you and your children have experienced the death of someone even closer to you. For that, I’m so very, very sorry.
The world wasn’t meant to be this way. Yet, as God’s children, we have hope beyond this world!
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 promises, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”
Although we have hope, there is still mourning this side of heaven. So, what are some ways we can support our children through the death of a loved one?
Walking Children Through the Death of a Loved One
Acknowledge the Grief
A big part of helping our children deal with grief is honestly just acknowledge it.
When death touches our family, it’s very easy and a natural reaction to retreat into our personal pain, leaving our children to handle their emotions on their own. But they are hurting too and they need us!
That doesn’t mean we suppress our own emotions. Rather, it means that we let our children into the raw spaces of our hearts and in turn enter gently into theirs. In these years while our children are young, we have the opportunity to give them a healthy view of death and grieving that will last their whole lives.
As much as we want to protect our little ones from all hurt and sorrow, that’s not our job as parents. Our job is to teach them how to face that hurt and sorrow by leaning into the arms of Jesus.
Acknowledge that your children’s grief is real and let them know that it’s alright to be sad and to cry. Tears can be healing!
After the storm of tears often comes a calm of tender vulnerability. It is then that we can speak the words of truth and hope our children need to hear.
Explain the Funeral Process
Funerals are hard for everyone, and children are no exception. Use your discretion to identify whether it would be healing or more traumatic for your children to attend events such as wakes, funerals and memorial services.
This will be different for every child and every situation. I do believe that the Holy Spirit gives us promptings as mothers that are often referred to as a “gut instinct”. Listen for the Spirit’s nudge, and you will know whether to involve your children in the funeral process or not.
If you do decide to have your children present at the funeral, explain the process as much as possible before you arrive at the service. Let them know that people will be sad and might be crying. Let them know that it’s ok if they cry and are sad too.
If you choose for your children not to attend any services, consider finding another way to help them feel closure and say goodbye. You could plant a tree or flower, or let each child choose a memento that reminds them of your loved one.
Pray with Your Children
Of course we should always be praying with our children, but prayer is especially critical when dealing with loss.
When your children see you praying through grief, you are leading by example. Your vulnerable, honest prayers, both alone and with your children, model how to run into the arms of God when faced with loss, rather than turning away.
Encourage your children to pray by themselves whenever they feel sad, even when you’re not there.
Focus on the Hope We Have in Jesus
When helping our children deal with grief in the death of a loved one, the absolute most important thing we can do is to keep our focus – and theirs – on the fact that death is not the end. Jesus has conquered death!
Even though we are sad now, God has promised to turn all our pain into joy. In Revelation 21:4, God said that He Himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
What a tender image and beautiful promise!
When Your Loved One Wasn’t Saved
Losing a loved one and not knowing that they were saved may well be the most difficult thing any of us can go through. Yet even more difficult than wrestling with that reality ourselves is explaining it to our children.
My husband’s grandmother was a Catholic. Although we are Presbyterian, we do believe based on evidence of her life and her own confession of faith that she personally knew Jesus and was saved. We take all of our comfort from that!
While I haven’t yet faced walking my children through the death of an unsaved loved one, I have personally experienced it. The comfort I’ve ultimately found in the grief of not knowing they were saved is that I do know my God.
He is ready and waiting to grant salvation to everyone up until the last breath they take! We don’t know the cries of each individual heart before they leave this earth. So, we ultimately can never know for certain that someone did not cry out to God in their final moments. The thief on the cross asked for salvation as he was dying, and Jesus gave it to him.
“And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”Luke 23:42-43
While I don’t know the fate of my loved ones who have not made a public confession of faith, I trust that my Savior does.
When my children inevitably face this same pain, my answer to them will be, “they are in God’s hands.” God’s ways are just, whether we think so or not.
What About Babies and Young Children?
I want to make a point here that I believe the Bible makes very clear God’s love and care for babies and children.
In Matthew 18:2 Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The name of Arrica’s blog comes from Isaiah 11:6 which talks about God’s plan for His people.
It says, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together, and a little child shall lead them.”
Children are very close and very dear to God’s heart! Although the loss of a child here on earth brings us unimaginable pain, those precious children are gathered directly into God’s loving arms.
It’s especially important for children facing the loss of a sibling, friend or young family member to know that they will see that child again.
When a loved one passes, we have an opportunity to give our children a solid, hopeful answer for what is arguably one of life’s biggest questions. What a beautiful gift God has allowed us to give, in teaching these little souls the glorious truth of the gospel!
Conclusion to Helping Your Children Deal with Grief
When sorrow touches your family, as it will each one of us this side of heaven, I encourage you to see it as a tender opening to root your children’s faith in gospel truth.
Allow sadness. Welcome tears. Cry with your children and gently begin helping them deal with their grief through the funeral process. Let them say goodbye.
Then you can begin the process of healing together. Also, you can be secure in the knowledge that your loved one is in the mighty hands of God. And His hands never make mistakes.
Guest Blogger Bio.
Hi, I’m Lieren! I’m a Jesus-loving girl living my childhood dream as wife to my best friend and full time mommy to our three children. I have a passion for helping women delight in the days they have with their little ones! I blog at Motherhood Beyond Survival, where I share practical advice offer encouragement and create a community to help you move beyond surviving motherhood to truly thriving in it. I’m not an expert; I’m a mother on the journey with you! My favorite things include getting lost in a good book, singing in the car, spontaneous adventures, and anything chocolate. Let’s connect, follow me on Facebook.