Help with grieving toddler - Mothering Forums

Forum Jump: 
Thread Tools
#1 of 12 Old 07-21-2011, 05:36 PM - Thread Starter
spicyrock's Avatar
Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: atlanta, ga
Posts: 260
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)

I haven't posted in a while, but I was hoping you could help me out with this awful situation.


My father died on March 31st. He died unexpectedly and I have been devastated. We were very close, and he was a huge part of my life and my daughter's life. She is two and a half. She's very verbally apt and she speaks clearly with a large vocabulary and with well-developed sentences. 


From about two weeks after my dad's death, she would occasionally ask questions about him and express sadness over missing him. I did the best I could with her questions, trusting my own gut as well as the scant advice I could garner from books, all of which said to be honest, frank, and literal- for example, not to use figurative speech like "he has gone home" or "he has passed away" because those euphemisms make no sense to a child her age, and also not to compare death to sleeping or similar because that might create a fear of bedtime. Many of her questions have been impossible to answer. When I tell her "G" died, she wants to know why. And she frequently says, "But where did G go, mama?" and then I explain again that he died, and we know of other examples of death because we have fish that have died, and that everything living dies when our bodies get old and don't work anymore, but that mommy and daddy are young and healthy and we aren't going to die now. And neither is she. And then she says, "I don't understand, mama. But where did he GO?" 


Anyway, the point is- over the past few days, grief has hit her hard. She has been crying in the car and saying "I miss G, mama, I want G," and she has been saying that she is dying, that mommy is dying, that daddy is dying... she even said she is going to kill herself. Now, I know she doesn't understand what it means to kill yourself. I know she doesn't actually have the mental capacity to cause herself harm, and she probably doesn't even equate "harm" with dying. I'm not even sure where she heard the word "kill" - we are gentle people, we don't kill things, she has not seen violent television or anything- the only thing we ever kill are mosquitoes. But anyway, it really concerns me. I hate to see her pain- hate to think she feels what I myself feel, which is horrible and does actually make me think sometimes that death would be a relief in comparison to this terrible agony. And I don't want her to worry, I don't want her to think her parents are dying or that she is...


I wish none of this had happened. I wish my family hadn't sustained this loss and that my daughter had been older when she first encountered death, and that it hadn't been her favorite grandparent and someone she was very close to and loved so much. And I wish all of those things for myself, too- my dad was MY favorite person in the world and he was our anchor in life. But it did happen, and I am having trouble dealing with my daughter's grief. I want to know if there is anyone who has been in this situation, if her behavior is normal, if there is anything I can do to help her. 


Thank you.

mummy to one sweet, beautiful, strong, clever, perfect
spicyrock is offline  
#2 of 12 Old 07-21-2011, 09:12 PM
voca's Avatar
Join Date: Jul 2010
Location: Alberta, Canada
Posts: 65
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
I have no relevant experience to offer. But for what thoughts from the armchair are worth, I think you can't protect her from the pain she is feeling, you just need to be there for her while she works through it.


voca is offline  
#3 of 12 Old 07-21-2011, 09:30 PM
cameragirl's Avatar
Join Date: Apr 2010
Location: Sacramento, CA
Posts: 2,045
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
At that age, it is hard for them to comprehend what is really going on. It helps to answer her honestly in terms she can understand. Talk to her about how Mommy and Daddy are healthy, and that you will be around for a long time. Help her to feel secure with lots of cuddles and time with Mommy & Daddy. I hope that things get better. It is so hard to see them having to deal with grief so early.hug2.gif

Wife to DH, mama to bikenew.gif DD (7) ribboncesarean.gif, babyf.gif DS born 3/12 ribboncesarean.gif, and have had five early losses. angel1.gif
I have Stiff Person Syndrome and my other car is a candy apple red Rascal. Feel free to ask me about it. wheelchair.gif
cameragirl is offline  
#4 of 12 Old 07-21-2011, 09:59 PM
ashtak's Avatar
Join Date: Jul 2011
Posts: 17
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)

couldn't read and not respond, although i don't have any useful advice. 

I do, however, agree with the PP that said you can't protect her from feeling hurt - just as no one in the world can erase all your pain. 


ashtak is offline  
#5 of 12 Old 07-22-2011, 01:21 AM
meemee's Avatar
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Norther California
Posts: 12,783
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 22 Post(s)

it is hard to see our children in pain isnt it?


esp. something they cant really fully comprehend. 


while you dont want them to be in pain that is something you have to allow them to feel. it is a beautiful bonding period for all 3 of you - u, ur dd and your dad. 


through her expression she is trying to figure it out and understand it. 


here are some of the things i have done with my dd. 


when I was sad and figuring out how to express my grief i'd invite my bro and dad to our dinner table. dd and i would put place settings for them and serve them a little food and cry and laugh and tell stories so my dd would get to know my bro and dad whom she never met. when her gparents died at 5 she knew while they were gone they were always with her.


somehow its always worked out at halloween we do an outdoors candle 'service' for the people who have gone ahead. we make altars. on their bday in their memory we try to do something - like volunteer in their name.  


Here are some suggestions


"I miss G, mama, I want G,"


I miss G too. I wish he didnt die so soon. I miss .... <details>


that mommy is dying, that daddy is dying


yes. one day we will all die, but i hope to live for a very long time. <maybe insert something funny here without disrespecting her>


When I tell her "G" died, she wants to know why.


because he was old and his heart gave out <or something like that> i would never say we are young and we will not die soon. what i say is we are young, we are healthy, we take care of ourselves. i hope we dont die soon.


But where did he GO?


we dont really know or understand this. your view <whatever it is> people from many religions seem to say that they go to .... or ... or .... share with her your own opinion/dilema. i have always admitted to dd when i didnt know. always. it helps her a lot. 


this is just the beginning and it is also the hardest part. you will see her revisiting this concept many times till she truly gets it which could be around 5 or 6.


did your dad have a memorial service or funeral? did she attend? if she didnt you need to do something to help her find closure.


her reaction is very normal. without anyone dying at 2 1/2 dd went thru all that on her own when she realised death means GONE. however hte kill herself is v. unusual at that age. i'd kinda let it go. when dd first learnt about kill yourself (she was 6) she'd use that when i'd tell her to do something she didnt like. seh got over it eventually. 


she took care of her gparents at 4 while they were in hospice for a year. it really helped her with her grief. for 2 years her grief was intense but now its not that bad. however she still cries over a hamster that died 4 years ago. 


having seen my ex struggle to figure out what to do with his grief when he first attended a funeral and service at nearly 40, i am grateful dd got to witness first real grief at 4 rather than 40.


we still tell stories of her gparents. she still writes them stories. we invite them at our table. we do little things in rememberance of them. i think it has been v. healing for dd. 


dont be afraid to express your emotions in front of your child.  show her your tears and sadness. read the books (if you can mama - the wound is raw) he used to read her. i still do that with dd even though its been 4 years. we still have altars in our backyard for our loved ones and dd picks up things that remind her of them - like stones, tiny toy, a flower. sometimes we go to the river and float a flower in rememberance of them. 





 treehugger.gif Co-parent, joy.gifcold.gifbrand new homeschooling middle schoolerjoy.gif, and an attackcat.gif 
meemee is offline  
#6 of 12 Old 07-23-2011, 02:59 PM
swd12422's Avatar
Join Date: Nov 2007
Posts: 2,137
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 3 Post(s)

I'm so sorry for your loss, and for the grief you and your daughter are enduring.


My grandfather died last summer, and my son (who was 2.5 at the time) didn't really ask too many questions. Just wanted to visit him, asked where he was a lot, so I told him that he'd died. (I was told that if you keep it simple, they accept that, but he didn't.) He asked where he went, and after lots of going around over the months, trying to get to a "good" answer, we finally came up with, "He didn't go anywhere. He's right here with us, we just can't see him anymore." and "He died, but he is alive in our memories of him. Let's talk about the time ...." That usually satisfies him for awhile. He also started to put together that he doesn't have a body anymore, b/c it was broken and the doctors couldn't fix it, so he left his body at the hospital (he'd been ill for awhile and we'd visited him at the hospital several times) and now he feels much better but we can't see him since he doesn't have a body.


It's not the greatest or most accurate concept, but it's working for him right now, and it has helped both of us in that he has comfort in knowing how the conversation will go when he brings it up, and the more consistent I am with it the less he asks, and that means less painful and awkward conversations about it. I always talk about feeling sad and missing him so DS knows that it's okay to have these feelings, and end with talking about something we did with him, or how he was with my son, so that he will hopefully remember him as he was before he got sick, and so that we end on a positive note.


I'm sorry, I rambled on and on and don't think I've been particularly helpful, but this is how we have struggled through a similar situation.

swd12422 is online now  
#7 of 12 Old 07-24-2011, 06:58 PM - Thread Starter
spicyrock's Avatar
Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: atlanta, ga
Posts: 260
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)

Thank you all for your kind words and good advice. It is more helpful than you know. In retrospect, I do wish I had taken my dd to the funeral, but most people thought she was too young and I myself couldn't handle it. I couldn't take care of her and I was lucky to have my mother in law to basically care for her for the first three weeks or so. I was completely torn into pieces with sadness and despair and I barely made it through the funeral, myself.


I like the idea of having a ceremony for her to say goodbye. And I really, really like the idea of explaining that he is still with us, just invisible. I am not religious. But something about that resonates with me.

mummy to one sweet, beautiful, strong, clever, perfect
spicyrock is offline  
#8 of 12 Old 07-24-2011, 07:38 PM
swd12422's Avatar
Join Date: Nov 2007
Posts: 2,137
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 3 Post(s)

Sorry, didn't mean to imply anything "religious" when I said I tell DS my grandfather is still with us. I guess I did mean "in spirit" in a way, but really he is with us in our memories. People who have been part of our lives (never mind a BIG part) become and will always be a part of us, because our experiences travel with us through our lives (unless we have a really poor memory like my DH, who doesn't remember much of anything!). That's all I meant. Didn't mean to push the afterlife on you!


And I don't think it's wrong to not have had her there. We didn't have a funeral at all for my grandfather (we're not so religious either!). You could use the time your MIL spent with her as a milestone in time if that helps her connect things together. And I think a ceremony is a wonderful idea too. You can talk about all the fun things you did together, tell stories about your relationship with him even before your DD was born, trade memories about your favorite things about him, etc.


One of the questions DS has always asked since he could talk (about anything/anyone, not just my grandfather) is, "What's so-and-so doing?" It seems to be his way of voicing his thoughts. He's thinking about this person or that one, and wondering how they're doing, what they're doing, etc. So when he asks "What's G doing?" I tell him what I think G would be doing if he were still alive and whatever age I have memories from -- taking a walk, on his boat, swimming at the pool, listening to music and reading the paper, watching Seinfeld reruns... It helps me to remember those little things about him, and helps DS get a picture of who he was before his age took over and all he could do was sit. Making a list helped me get through my grieving, b/c even thinking about something as silly as watching TV together provided a feeling of comfort in me.


One more thing: I just read something recently about grief that said not to stifle your feelings about what happened. If you feel like crying, cry. Don't bottle it up. Let it out, and move on. Apparently it helps you heal faster. I don't think there's anything wrong with crying in front of your daughter. I cried so hard a few times, I scared DS a bit, but I simply told him I was sad about my grandfather, and he'd climb up in my lap and cry with me and it would be over in a minute or two. He got used to it, and as soon as I'd start to sniffle, he'd run up and ask if I needed a hug. Unfortunately, I have bad hay fever, so even when I just had the sniffles from that, he'd come running with a tissue and a hug, and he felt so important. I think that kind of thing may help your DD too.... If she feels like she's helping you in some way, it's empowering and can help her feel strong. I hope this makes sense... I'm exhausted and distracted by DS, but seeing this got me thinking about my own situation again and I'm hoping at least some of it will be helpful to you or someone else reading...

swd12422 is online now  
#9 of 12 Old 07-26-2011, 12:46 PM
laila2's Avatar
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 223
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)

Just want to offer you a shoulder to cry on.  So sad. 

laila2 is offline  
#10 of 12 Old 08-05-2011, 07:42 AM
biojen's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2011
Posts: 1
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)

I'm so sorry for your loss. Watching your child grieve is awful. You feel so helpless and its hard to think of what to do when you are in such pain yourself. It sounds like you are doing everything that she needs. I can give you an idea of how the next year and change will go.


Our son was stillborn 19 months ago. Our daughter was not quite 4. She was so looking forward to being a big sister and was absolutely devastated. When he was born we didn't think she would handle seeing him (he was born at 21 weeks, very deformed) so she stayed with my mom while we were at the hospital. She never saw him so she didn't get the closure and still will sometimes ask if we can go back to the hospital and get our baby back. The first few months were very hard. We both found ourselves getting less patient with her behavior because we were barely holding it together. That was really unhelpful so watch yourself and keep in mind she is hurting too. Let her see you cry and tell her you miss him and encourage her to talk about him. It will help you heal too. Be patient with yourself. You will not be a perfect parent while you are grieving. That is okay. Be honest with yourself and your daughter. If you are having a bad day just tell her you are sad and try to come up with something to cheer you or her up. Keep answering her questions. She will ask the same ones over and over again for a long time (mine still wants to know why he died and why he can't come back). That gets very hard to hear after a while but keep giving her the same answers, she is just trying to fit this into her world view.


Be prepared for random sharing with strangers. We recently moved and out of the blue when my daughter met our neighbor the first time she told her that our baby Aiden died. I just said "yes honey, that was very sad" and gave her a hug. She also will ask anyone that has a new baby if the baby will die. That one is harder to deal with but she is just trying to understand. Your daughter may not do this because it was an adult that died, but I just wanted to warn you. There is an online resource that I found extremely helpful (just try asking at Barnes and Nobles if they have books for grieving children - NOT helpful) it is called the Centering Corporation. They have lots of books and advice that helped us a lot.


Things will get much easier after about a year, but the questions and the periods of sadness will be around much longer. Lately whenever my daughter is really acting up she will start to cry and say she misses the baby. I think maybe she does this because we have largely stopped talking about him. I was going to have her draw a picture of what he would look like to keep in her room and talk to. Maybe your daughter could have a picture of your Dad in her room and she can talk to it when she misses him.


I'm sorry, honey. This is so hard but it really will get better. You will always miss your dad but the pain is not quite so raw after awhile and you find joy in life again. Hugs to you and your family.

biojen is offline  
#11 of 12 Old 08-06-2011, 07:21 PM
Tonia Starr's Avatar
Join Date: May 2011
Location: NC
Posts: 49
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)

On January 20th my youngest son turned two. Nine days later his daddy tragically and unexpectedly. (drowned) How CAN you explain to a toddler what you cannot fully wrap your own mind around? How can you possibly wrap grief and loss and fear and faith up in a tidy little package and present it in an understandable way? Yes, there are things you CAN do. I gave my son pictures of Dadd which he carried with him everywhere until they got wet or dogeared or ripped and then I would give him a new one. I began doing the things Daddy did special with him, like throwing a mini football in the livingroom or swinging him by his feet to toss him gently on the couch. I explained in tentative terms about my own beliefs of heaven and showed him how to blow kisses to the heavens above our head on sunny days. I strategically placed photos in frames on walls where my children could see them if they wanted but not right in their line of vision if they were wanting to avoid them that day. (my older two had a harder time seeing the photos so I was careful about that)

But most of all, for my two year old, I simply was THERE. Still am. He went through a phase that he is still struggling with where he is now VERY aware that death happens, that loss exists, that people we love can leave our lives. He was VERY clingy in the first weeks after his Daddy died, very fearful I would vanish next. So, I held him. I sang to him. I let him sleep on top of me at night just like he always slept on Daddy. I snuggled and reassured and loved and prayed and held his hand. I let him see me cry and confessed I missed Daddy too, I let him see me smile and laugh because life ebbs on and grief is only a portion of it all.

Do these things. Simply BE there. Carry on memories. Have a ceremony to say a private goodbye. (we did this. said prayers, spoke words, tossed flowers into the river at the spot he fell in) Talk to her about teh good times. the times that make you laugh recalling them. Hug her. tell her its ok to feel scared or unsure or sad or mad.

Hugs to you mama/ Its hard to grieve . To find your way through this journey carrying that pain while also trying to carry your childs pain. the fact is, you CANT. You cant shield it or keep it at bay. At some point in life, inevitably, we have our hearts broken, our lives changed, our paths redirected. I am so sorry for your loss. xoxo

Tonia Starr is offline  
#12 of 12 Old 09-29-2011, 04:45 AM
paigedup's Avatar
Join Date: Sep 2011
Posts: 1
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)

My father died suddenly 2 weeks ago. I was a daddy's girl and thought he was the greatest. He was also a great grandad to my two girls, Maya aged 9 and Tegan aged 22 months. My dad went away on abussiness trip for 3 days and never came back. I have dealt, or am dealing with the loss of my dad but am very concerned about Teagan. She walks aroung my mothers house calling for ' John' ( for some reason she never called him Grampa !) , she wakes up calling for him and is very out of sorts. Teagan has always been a very good sleeper but now tends to wake up more often during the night, her bottle has become a 'comfort' tool and she wants lots of hugs and love. Hugs and love are plentiful, granny is fantastic but is herself grieving. Unfortunatley my husband and I work full time and have just gotten a fantastic nanny to look after her during the day. I think that the death of grandad , the new nanny and the scarceness of granny are taking there toll. What do I do?

paigedup is offline  

Quick Reply
Drag and Drop File Upload
Drag files here to attach!
Upload Progress: 0

Register Now

In order to be able to post messages on the Mothering Forums forums, you must first register.
Please enter your desired user name, your email address and other required details in the form below.
User Name:
If you do not want to register, fill this field only and the name will be used as user name for your post.
Please enter a password for your user account. Note that passwords are case-sensitive.
Confirm Password:
Email Address
Please enter a valid email address for yourself.
Email Address:


Human Verification

In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.

User Tag List

Thread Tools
Show Printable Version Show Printable Version
Email this Page Email this Page

Forum Jump: 

Posting Rules  
You may post new threads
You may post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are On
Pingbacks are On
Refbacks are Off