Grief and Children

When Lyn was diagnosed with dementia, my husband and I made a point of telling our children before Lyn arrived with my Mom for their annual start of summer visit.  We explained that Aunt Lyn's brain was changing and that she may say or do things a little differently than she did before.  We asked that the children continue to treat Aunt Lyn with love and respect during our visits and our weekly conversations via Skype.

We spent a little time role playing appropriate responses to Aunt Lyn with our eldest because our eldest can be a bit pedantic from time to time.  (The child comes by it honestly.)  In previous visits, this child would challenge statements Aunt Lyn made and do much to prove knowledge on the point being discussed.  This child is not good at tolerating inaccurate facts.  We literally practiced how to respond to Aunt Lyn if she made a statement like "Snakes have legs."  Our practiced response would be "That's very interesting, Aunt Lyn.  I didn't know that."  The child contended that "Snakes don't have legs" and so I called on my good friend Google to help me prove the child is not right about everything.  This child would have previously argued the point until rosy cheeks turned blue.

This child is old enough to understand the permanency of death, that changes in Aunt Lyn's brain are permanent and not something we may be able to slow down.  This child has lived through the deaths of numerous fish and a cat before this understanding took hold.  Since then, this child has matured enough to really get it and has grieved the deaths of two of our dogs.  Aunt Lyn is the first person in this child's realm of caring to be faced with obvious mortality.

After their visit to our home, there was a number of weeks before we visited them.  When we visited, the changes in Aunt Lyn were more pronounced than before.  My oldest child, remained behind for an extended visit with Grandma and Aunt Lyn as has been done for the past several years when the rest of us returned home.  In previous years, this extended visit would sometimes be a challenge as my child and Aunt Lyn competed for Grandma's attention or to prove who was right.  That did not occur this year.

This year, knowing that Aunt Lyn's brain is changing, my child made me proud.  This child decided to spend the extra time entertaining Aunt Lyn, making it a personal goal to see if Aunt Lyn's laughter could bring her to tears.  There was no pedantic need to be right.  There was play and silliness.  There were hugs and sharing.

Since my child's return from Aunt Lyn's, there's been a creeping sadness that my child has been struggling to identify.  This week, while my child and I had some one-on-one time, I was finally able to ferret out the cause.  My child is worried and grieving for my sister.

My child doesn't understand why Aunt Lyn's brain is changing.  My child doesn't think it is fair that this is happening to her and declared that "She's such a nice person that she doesn't deserve this."  My child doesn't want Aunt Lyn to become more disabled in any way and definitely doesn't want her to die "for a very long time."  I shared with my child that I agree with all these feelings and that it is very upsetting to know that these changes are happening to Aunt Lyn.  I assured my child that these feelings are all normal given the situation.  We cried together.  My child cried for Aunt Lyn.  I cried for both of them.

Ultimately, I think my child was reassured to know that Aunt Lyn will continue to be well cared for by Grandma, that we'll keep tabs on the situation and do what we can to help, and, most of all, that Aunt Lyn will be treated with love and respect.  I can't take my child from one point in the grief cycle to the end of it.  Unfortunately, my child is going to have to independently grieve for Aunt Lyn.  However, I can be there to answer questions and give as many hugs as are needed because we'll all need them at some point, at many points in this journey.

Myself included.


  1. You have a very precious child who loves Aunt Lyn. What a blessing for them both!

  2. I cried when I read this. What a wonderful relationship for your child and your sister. We could look at this as an opportunity for your child to learn, and that it is, but he's teaching us, too. I so agree with the name of your blogspot and hate that dementia exists in this world. Thank you for sharing how it impacts your world and your family member's worlds.

  3. Thank you both for your kind comments! We greatly appreciate the feedback. Lyn is a good aunt to my children whom she loves very much. Having her in the family has helped them become aware of the intellectually disabled population and all they can do. My oldest has asked to volunteer with Special Olympics once again this year.

  4. Yours is a special kid, and you, my friend, are an outstanding mother (and a pretty good writer, too. :-) This brought tears to my eyes. Hug that child extra hard!


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