A problem which is perhaps as difficult as actually experiencing a grandparent death is preparing for a grandparent’s death. Interestingly, some of the strategies that are frequently used for children coping with a death can also be helpful in preparing for a death, with the added bonus that the grandparent, if still able, can also draw comfort and pleasure from these activities, or from the fruits of the activities.
Art therapy is a well-established field of psychology, but one does not have to be a psychologist to use the power of art. Supply the child with good paints or markers and paper and suggest that he make a picture for his grandparent. If Grandma or Grandpa is still healthy enough to do so, a shared drawing or painting session can be even more healing.
The child who is hesitant about drawing or painting can sometimes be induced to create a collage. Because he or she is cutting and pasting rather than actually drawing, the pressure can be less. Words to express the child’s feelings or photographs of the grandparent can be incorporated into the collage.
Sometimes a child will be feeling angry about the prospect of his grandparent’s death and may create a picture with dark and disturbing images. Certainly this is a valuable way to express emotions, but that may not be the piece to share with the grandparent. You may want to discuss the piece in an open and non-critical way. The child may then be asked if he or she wants to make something else, “to make Grandma feel better.”
It is sometimes suggested that children write a letter to their grandparent who has died. This can be beneficial to the grief process, but why not write the letter while the grandparent is still alive? Letter writing is a wonderful activity for bringing grandparents and grandchildren closer together.
Poetry writing can also be very therapeutic. Children sometimes have an instinctive talent for expressing their ideas poetically. They may just need help in, for example, choosing where to place line breaks. Some grandparents may be intimidated by the idea of writing poetry, but others may already have experience with poetry-writing or may want to try. Those who are unsure about how to proceed should consider following a poetic formula that makes poetry-writing easy.
Gifts and Special Objects
In many countries and cultures, objects are placed with the dead person for use in the afterlife. Another way of preparing for a separation is through the giving of gifts. A child can choose some special objects to give to a grandparent. If the child wishes, the objects may be placed in the casket after the grandparent’s death. Some grandparents prepare for death by selecting certain of their possessions to give to their grandchildren and other heirs. Although larger items should probably be granted in a will, a grandparent can choose small items for each grandchild. The fact that the grandparent chose the item will make it have special significance.
Photos and Scrapbooks
A photo album, photo book or scrapbook is a good project for a grandchild to make to give to a grandparent. An older child may be able to put one together without much help, but even a preschool child can make a scrapbook which will be precious to the grandparent. If the grandparent’s health allows, this is an activity which can be enjoyed together. After the grandparent’s death, the scrapbook can go back to the grandchild as a remembrance of times together. An older child who is good with technology may want to make a slide show, which can be easier for a grandparent to view than a scrapbook.
Giving to Others
Another way for a grandchild to honor a grandparent is by “paying it forward” through doing appropriate volunteer work. The grandchild can help someone else in honor of his or her grandparent. If a grandparent suffers from Alzheimer’s, for example, a grandchild can participate in an Alzheimer’s Walk, volunteer at a local facility or make a monetary donation in the grandparent’s name. If the grandparent was a nature-lover, the grandchild could clean up a local park or volunteer at a summer camp. These activities are most appropriate for older grandchildren, but young kids can do some of them with parental help. These activities are appropriate in honor of a deceased grandparent, but why not do them for a living grandparent as well?
Knowing that their time together is limited can be heartbreaking for grandparents and also for grandchildren. When death is clearly unavoidable, however, why not spend some time trying, in the words of Shakespeare, “to love that well which thou must leave ere long.”
Read more about helping children with a grandparent death.