It is challenging to lose a loved one. That grief is compounded when you are a parent to a child who may not remember them when they grow up or who never had a chance to get to know them. It becomes even more important to help preserve the family history, and find ways to help children build connections to those who have passed away.
Some parents shared some suggestions, and listed the ways that they help their children learn about and feel close to those special people. For example, take video of your older relatives if you have the opportunity. One mother wrote, “One thing I regret, since both of my parents are gone, is not having any videos of them. I would love to hear my mom’s voice, and see both of them interacting with my daughter. This may be a natural thing today with cell phones at the ready all the time, but if you have family members approaching a certain age or someone who is sick, make an effort to record those spontaneous moments. Writing down some questions and having them talk about their childhood or when your child was born and special memories would be wonderful as well.”
More than one parent suggested telling stories and simply talking about the deceased family member or loved one. “l tell my kids stories about Grandpa all the time. When my dad died we still spoke of him (often). It sets a good example.”
Another said, “I tell lots of stories, and point out how my child may have characteristics or habits of our deceased loved one. It helps maintain a connection and helps my child get a greater understanding of how we are all part of a line of those who came before and those who will come after.”
Part of that storytelling also includes being willing to discuss difficult topics and helping the children work through their complicated feelings. “I share my memories of my dad from growing up and answer honestly the questions my kiddos (still) have about his death and his illness preceding his passing. My oldest son had the hardest time when my dad died so I just made sure he understood that feeling those strong feelings is normal and okay and that I would help him through it. I also made sure not to hide my own grief. He has been gone for 3 years now and my oldest son keeps a small box of things he thinks his pawpaw would have liked. Both boys also have recorded storybooks he made for them and, although they haven’t listened to them since he passed, I think they like knowing they can hear his voice if they ever need to. While I never pretend he isn’t gone, I make sure to keep my dad in our conversations about family and I do think it has helped all of us.”
Keeping mementos can also help children feel connected. “My daughter made a memory box after my dad died. It has some photos and things that remind her of him, but most importantly for her it has a bottle of his aftershave so that she can still have his smell. She is very sensory seeking, so it really helps her.” If a child experiences the death of a close loved one it they may also find it comforting to be allowed to pick out an item from among their possessions to keep for themselves.
Making a scrapbook and photo album can be a way not only to help preserve memories, but also to bond with your children as you go through the pages. “I am going to make a picture book of my parents for my daughter which will include pictures of them together and little stories about them together. I also let my daughter pick out a piece of jewelry that was my mom’s for her to keep. I also tell her stories of them together frequently. She made a memory book for my mom’s passing that we put in the casket, but I took pictures of it to save for her. In the book were her memories of the moments with my mom. She drew pictures of things they did together and wrote about it, like when they would feed the ducks.”
Another mom shared, “I scrapbook when I have time. I write things in the books like stories. For example, my grandpa served in the Navy. He had a pet monkey on the island he was stationed on during WWII. I have pictures of him in his uniform and have typed out the stories he told me. Almost like a children’s book. I tell their stories and they live in my children’s minds.”
Having pictures on display can be comforting as well. “We keep a photo up of my maternal Grandmother. It’s actually on a grandfather clock that was my paternal grandfather’s. My son never met my paternal grandfather, but he knew my maternal grandmother who died when he was 4. We tell him stories of things my grandma did with him and how much she loved him. He points out her picture to people and tells them she died of cancer. He’s only 7, but through stories and having a photo always around makes it seem like he’s still connected to her.”
Another person shared that they display pictures to remind their children of the love that constantly surrounds them. “I have a bulletin board of pictures of friends and family, who are living and have gone, who love me and my girls like their own. It has been hanging in my girls’ rooms since they were babies. For those still living, the pictures get updated, for those who are not, their face is memorialized on the board. The girls “know” our “inner circle” by seeing their faces every single day. I tell stories about these special people as if my girls know them as well as I do. Sometimes I think they think they do know them as well as I do because the stories and faces are all so familiar. It has worked well for us because I want my girls to be reminded of the group of people who genuinely love(d) us. As they enter their teen years, I find it especially important to keep my girls focused on counting blessings in human treasures not material ones.”
It can also help children feel connected to the family history if you take them to places that played a prominent role in the lives of deceased loved ones. “My parents took me to the house where my great-aunt lived so I could see the property and hear the stories while being in the setting. It was very moving for me. Even now, even though my Dad is alive, we still look at pictures of the house he grew up in and he has taken me there a few times. It is a good way to connect the stories you hear with the places involved.”
There are countless ways to help foster connections & keep memories strong. What matters most is that we take the time to teach our children about their family, and that we remind them how much they are loved.
Jennifer Roberts Bittner
Funeral Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist
Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service
6500 Iron Bridge Rd.
N. Chesterfield, VA 23234
Serving the Richmond area since 1870