For my baby girl there were two mommies in the house. My mother was a widow; we lost my dad when I was 13 years old. When I became a single mother at the age of twenty one, my mom took over Alisa as her own. I went on to do college, take up a job and all this while it was my mom who looked after my daughter. Needless to say, the two of them grew very close. So much so, that most nights my baby would sleep with her grandma. Right from stories to play to even pick up and drop offs from the school, my mom did it all. I was in charge of Alisa’s food, her academics, the finances and all that stuff but her grandma was her closet friend, confidant and also savior.
When my mom passed away after a violent heart- attack, my baby girl’s world came crashing down. Being the only family, I was too busy looking into the funeral arrangements and organizing paperwork and Alisa kept slipping into a depression. During the funeral I realized how shaken up Alisa was since she screamed and kicked and howled when the casket was being lowered into the ground. The days that followed were no better. Alisa was having difficulty sleeping without her grandma. She would open her grandma’s dresser and smell her clothes all the time. For weeks to follow my baby girl would just sit glum with her toys.To her it was as if she had lost a parent.
I had to get back to work and so I arranged for a nanny to look after Alisa when was at work. This was a move that broke her completely. She saw it as abandonment on my part and completely withdrew into her shell. When her grandma was around, Alisa was a bundle of energy. She would be jumping all over the place and running around all the time. Now she would sit in a corner and just look dazed through the day. Even her school teacher was worried about the complete change in Alisa’s personality. The work load was heavy since we were near the end of the school year, and I for one had no clue how to get Alisa out of her depression.
Pretty soon after we had the ‘bring your child to work’ day at work, and when I took Alisa along she seemed almost scared of everyone in office. My assistant noticed this and the next day mentioned it to me. She said that she was a teen when her granddad had passed away, and she had taken it rather badly. She suggested that I talk to Alisa about death and try and open her world to new things that will help her move on in life.
I took a week off from work and decided to spend that time with Alisa. We stayed at home and just wrapped up all of my mom’s things in boxes. During this time I would keep talking to Alisa about concepts like the soul, God, death, etc. She would mostly nod her head and more often than not walk away after a few minutes. Then one fine day she suddenly asked me ‘mom, if you also die, will they put me in a home’. The words cut through my heart like a knife. There was no other family that my baby girl had, and the fact that I was the only one was making her scared and sad at the same time.
I decided to get some professional help, because clearly I was at a complete loss here. We went for a few therapy sessions and while Alisa did not miraculously get over her grandma’s death, she did learn to talk about it and voice her fears. The psychologist suggested we join some activities that are fun for Alisa and do that as a mother daughter team. Since there were no other family members that I could bring into Alisa’s world I was encouraged to expose her to some of the closer friends that I had. She could interact with them more, even if they did not have any kids of their own. I adopted all these ideas and followed them fully.
I could see Alisa change and get more and more comfortable. She was her cheerful self when we were swimming and had even gotten comfortable with me reading bed time stories to her. Unlike her grandma, I would stick to story books and there were times when Alisa would mention how grandma could tell stories out of nowhere. Her grandma’s mention still made Alisa sad, but things were much more in control.
While we stopped going to therapy and things in school have greatly improved, I still continue to work on Alisa. This February it will be a year since my mom passed. I was also struck hard by my mom’s passing, but my little girl took it very badly. In some ways I feel that having to help Alisa get over her grief, pushed me along too and help me cope with mine. I often visits sites like http://www.singlemom.com/parenting-and-kids/ to keep in touch with parenting skills. I have found some good reads here on how to help young children cope with death. While in my case things happened rather suddenly, it is a fact that as parents we often have to introduce the concept of death to our kid’s lives. Knowing how to go about this gory topic without scaring the child is a very important lesson that every parent must learn.