My mother-in-law recently passed away.

It was rather sudden; the funeral was less than 2 weeks after she first went to the hospital, and it was several days in the hospital before we realized the severity of her illness (late-stage inoperable cancer).

We talked to my son (who is 6) about the fact that his grandma was very sick, and that she was going to die. He seemed more focused on supporting and reassuring my wife, who was understandably grieving. He would say things like "I'm okay. I have a picture of Grandma in my room so I'll always remember her, and besides, its not like its my first time dealing with death" (my mother-in-law's boyfriend had passed exactly one year earlier). He frequently would tell my wife how sorry he was that she had to lose her mommy, and then he'd offer hugs.

However, we're seeing signs that he's not dealing with it as well as he may think.

He gets upset a lot more easily than normal, and has 3 crying bouts over relatively trivial incidents (having to interrupt play to leave school at the end of the day, arriving too late to participate in play with one of his friends, etc.) in the past week.

This is pretty unusual for him, and has always coincided with some problem (bullies, changing classes, etc.).

When we asked him about it, he did say he's sad, because he misses Grandma, and every time someone talks about it, it reminds him that she's gone, which makes him upset.

What can we do to help him?

  • Related
    – user420
    Mar 24, 2017 at 13:30
  • I am very sorry for your and your son's loss.
    – AAM111
    Mar 26, 2017 at 17:53

2 Answers 2


You and your family have my sincere sympathies.


When it happened to us -- to our now daughter's parents it was really hard. Thirteen years later she still talks about her parents frequently. We encourage this and talk about all our happy memories -- they were my closest friends, so I have many happy stories to share.

I try to remind her that her mum and dad wanted her happiness and her health as their priority. Laughing and living well is the best way she has to say "Thank you and I love you too."

When she was young -- we drew pictures and used a journal to talk to them in pictures and words.

  • 1
    Such a good answer Willow. I like that last paragraph especially.
    – Bugs
    Mar 25, 2017 at 9:09

Stages of grief run a pretty typical course in most of the population. Of course there will be age-related phenomena, but the baseline for behavioral difficulties is up till about 6 months. Beyond that, you might consider more intensive approaches. However, the tendency for parents is to "pathologize" an otherwise normal reaction.

Here are some other "normal approaches."

1. Disturbances that would normally get a timeout still get a timeout. But maybe less time spent.

2. Go to the grave site or funeral home. Bring flowers or artwork.

3. Many 6 yos understand the finality of death but many don't. Don't push it.

4. Take a vacation somewhere fun. If it involves using inheritance, that should be made known.

Good luck!

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