We know how to respond to a death in a friend’s family, but what happens when the death is in the family of your child’s friend? Is it appropriate to involve children when supporting the bereaved family? That’s what one mom wondered. Her daughter’s best friend’s granddad died. The mom planned on writing a condolence letter to the family and asked, “Should my daughter write one too?”
At what age is it appropriate to involve our children in the bereavement process? I’m not sure that there is a strict age requirement; I think it depends more on the individual circumstances and whether you’re comfortable involving your child(ren).
When my daughters were eight and ten, our sixteen year-old neighbor died in a car accident. I didn’t have an opportunity to think whether to involve my children; during the three-day hospitalization prior to our neighbor's death, my ten-year old was asked to take care of the family pets. As the news became grim, I began cooking for the family. When we got the call that our neighbor had died and the family was arriving home, I had both my daughters help me deliver the meal. They participated in these acts of kindness and learned how important it is to support the bereaved.
A few years later, when each daughter had a classmate whose mother died, they each asked to participate in the funeral rituals. My husband and I accompanied them and answered any of their questions. They now are familiar with the bereavement process and write their own condolence letters. I have no doubt that after sharing these experiences, they know how to support their friends through difficult times.
So what advice did I give the mom? I thought it was kind of her to write a condolence message to her daughter’s friend’s family, but I suggested her daughter write a note too. It’s difficult to lose a loved one, but especially hard for a child to experience the death of a beloved granddad. A short note, handwritten from a friend, will help the child know they are loved and cared for, and not alone. Isn’t that how you’d want your own child to feel?
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.