There’s never going to be the right time or an easy time to tell them the news. But honesty with this is the best policy. Informing them that mummy has gone to the shops will not make life any easier in the future.
It’s important when informing them that you use clear words, words that they will understand. Although this is going to be hard for you and in some cases heartbreaking, it’s important to get it right.
For example: explain that Nanny has died today. If this has been a long illness you could say “You know Nanny has been in hospital and she was poorly? Unfortunately, she died today”.
Pause and give your child space to take everything in, so they digest it. You may find they have more questions which you will need to try and be as honest as possible. Give a cuddle if they need one, the reassurance will be comforting.
You may find they cry or even you both do. Try and convey your feelings, for example, “I know its upsetting and you feel sad, we did both love Nanny”.
Some children may ask questions, and others may just say ok. There are no right or wrong answers.
Add some context about what to expect if there are to be changes in circumstances so they are aware. Children love routine and if its an upheaval, explain why and how it changes for them. Keep them reassured that they know you love them and you will keep in contact with them no matter what.
All children will react differently. Some may want time off school, others may want to return the next or even same day. Children like to see their friends and their routine is important to them. If it’s a big change in their life, please phone the school/college so they are aware. This is helpful for both the child and the school.
The next steps would be to talk about the different types of funerals. This may not come at once and you may find this is a week or two later in some circumstances. It’s important that they are to know what to expect and it’s also important to include them. You may want to give them the option to go or to stay with someone else. Try not to alienate them from this, children all grieve in different ways.
Explain how a cremation works. For example, “everyone gets into a lovely big room, where we celebrate the life of Nanny. There will be a coffin at the end and in some cases bought in. The curtains may draw across at the end of the service”. Explain that in some cases there is laughing as well as crying. People will also thank you for coming and may say sorry for your loss.
For a burial its very similar, apart from after the service when we go to the burial ground where the coffin is lowered. Again, there may be crying and lots of sad people. You can hold my hand if you like throughout.
You may want to explain about the wake after and that all the friends and family get together to celebrate their life, by sharing stories, eating food and having a drink.
You could give your child a role by asking them to write down a story or happy thoughts of the loved one. This can be read out by the child or the humanist/celebrant or priest.
It’s important to keep the lines of communication open throughout. Ask how they are feeling, if you can get them anything. Also, talk of the loved one, share stories, remember the happy times and make sure you are always there when needed.