How do you handle it when a grandparent or loved one is dying and you have to decide whether or not to include your children in the experience? How do you know when it's too much? Or whether being exposed to the natural process of losing those we love is a life process that your child is ready to face? How do you deal with your own grief at the same time?
This is a question we've encountered this last week as Madeleine and Carter's great-grandfather on their dad's side is clearly reaching his last days. To make decision-making more complicated, the news came while I'm overseas working on a project. Thankfully, modern technology made a simple text conversation possible. Here's what we decided.
Take age into account. Madeleine, at eleven, is probably more capable of taking in a sad scene, than Carter who is still, at eight, developing language for more emotional events.
Consider the personality. Carter is a natural emotional sponge who takes in visual content deeply. Seeing his grandfather dying might have a different impact on him than Madeleine who handles difficult subjects more directly and expressively.
Look at the family. At this point in our family life, it might be a good bonding experience for Madeleine to spend time with her dad. They both know how to be compassionate and offer their presence in a similar comforting way. With me being away, it might not make sense for me to get on a plane and do another trip--especially when this experience might be too much for Carter.
We decided in the end, Madeleine should go and I should come home and stay with Carter. Since this is a loved one who the children do not know well, we felt it was okay to not have both kids go, since the loss will not be primarily theirs. Madeleine would have the experience of being with family at a difficult time as well as the opportunity to share an important moment with her dad. Carter and I will process in a more conversational way at home.
This is a very sad time, but I trust that Madeleine will be shaped and formed by seeing how deeply loved her great-grandfather is and how important she is to her dad who loves them both so much.