‘COVID-19 killed my father. How do I explain death to my kids who were very close to their grandpa?’ Closure after the death of a loved one is a process, each person’s grieving process can be different and grief evolves over time. People commonly experience states of denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
Dear doctor, My father just died. He got COVID-19 and went to the hospital and before we could process what was happening, he was gone. He was old and had other issues including diabetes. We are a family of four now and have little children who want to know where their ‘da-da’ went. How do I explain COVID to them? How do I explain death? How can I get closure – wasn’t able to do anything to take care of him – because the rest of us tested negative and we were afraid of our children’s health we couldn’t spend time with him, looking after him. It’s making me feel so sad and guilty and I am not being able to do anything except cry. I don’t know what to do. Help.
Answered by Dr Aamnah Hussain, Counseling Psychologist at German Neuroscience Center
Dear Anonymous, I am so sorry that you and your family are going through such a difficult time. We can feel unprepared for bereavement no matter how or when it happens but the conditions created by the pandemic are especially unique and the decisions you’ve had to make sound extremely challenging. It seems like you had to make impossible choices and could not have foreseen the outcome.
You didn’t mention the age of your kids but whatever their age I believe it is important to be clear and direct about the disease and about the death of their grandfather in terms that they can understand.
You may think that telling them about the realities of COVID and dying may be very scary for children but leaving doubts and unanswered questions may cause them to fill in the blanks in various ways and can lead to worse confusion and anxiety.
Explain safety measures
You can explain that COVID is a sickness with cold-like symptoms that many people survive but is more threatening for older people and those who already have some illness. It’s possible that children may grow concerned for the safety of other loved ones and themselves and so explain to them what measures you are taking to keep everyone safe.
It is also important to explain to children the physical aspect of death and that their grandfather will not be returning. You can also add any spiritual or religious explanation or understanding that your family shares. Assure the children that the family is safe at present, that you support and love each other and that they can always come to you if they have questions or feel sad or scared. It is ok to share your own emotions with the children as it will allow them to share theirs albeit they know that the parents are in control of the situation.
Stages of grieving
Closure after the death of a loved one is a process, each person’s grieving process can be different and grief evolves over time. People commonly experience states of denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. You may experience some or all of these, in no particular order or you may cycle between the different states.
From what you describe it seems like you have a lot of love and concern for your father and for your children but right now you are hurting a lot from your own loss and are deserving of your own compassion as well. Allow yourself some time and space to feel your emotions, reach out to loved ones and friends for support, write letters to your father expressing what was left unsaid, share stories about him and honour his memory and the values he espoused, remember to take care of your body and try to get adequate rest and nourishment.
It’s ok to feel what you are feeling
If you are feeling overwhelmed, take some time out and spend it outdoors in nature or do an activity that engages your physical senses. Try to take one day at a time and set small achievable goals for yourself. If your sleep or appetite gets severely affected, you feel hopeless and have difficulty concentrating or completing daily tasks for a long time, please seek professional support to help you cope.
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