By Rumki Chowdhury

It seems unfair to expose children to the emotion of grief after the loss of a loved one, right? As heartbreaking as it is to force that kind of maturity on a child, it’s a reality they must face on their own terms, at some point. It’s a reality children want to understand better because they ask questions which require answers. And, it’s ultimately our job as parents to answer them. Every parent and child is different so take into consideration that whatever I write here, it’s from my own personal experience so there is no “wrong” or “right” way to expose your children to grief. 

When my brother passed away in December, tears streamed down my cheeks and my children wondered what was happening. My two-year-old said, “Mommy, don’t cry!” My 7-year-old and almost 10-year-old asked, “What happened?” I told them that we lost Robin (Ryhan), their uncle, their “mama.” And my older two burst into tears and threw their arms around me, while my two-year-old tried to console me with, “Mommy, don’t cry.” You might think it was harsh of me to say it as directly as I did, but here’s something you need to know about my children:

Last year, one day, after school, my older two daughters and I were taking the elevator up to our apartment in Stockholm, Sweden. I looked into the elevator  mirror and said, “Oh man, I’m getting all these wrinkles. I think it shows now that I’m getting older.” My 7-year-old, who was 6-years-old at the time, cried, “Please don’t say that Mommy! If you get old, that means you will die and then you will be in Paradise and I want us all to grow old and die together and go to Paradise together!” Shock slapped me across the face and pulled my eyes wide open. I figured she had already been learning the Quran and Hadith from an early age so she had certainly encountered the term, “paradise” at one point or another. 

After learning the news of her uncle’s passing, my 7-year-old did cry for a bit, but then became distracted, playing with toys with her little sister. However, whenever I brought up her mama (uncle), she said, “Why do you keep talking about him? Talking about him makes me sad.” I guessed she had been dealing with the loss through distraction on purpose? 

My oldest daughter is mature for her age. She has always asked difficult questions, especially when it came to faith. Understandably, not everyone believes in an afterlife, but here’s the thing about children; even in this day and age of technology, their imagination is vast so take advantage of that fact when it comes to healing after the loss of a loved one. If you lose a loved one and your child is asking where he or she is, it’s okay to take advantage of their wild imagination and let the child live in a fantasy/fairytale world. Here is an example of an answer you can give, “He/she is sleeping so that they can visit you in your dreams and fight all the bad guys that give you nightmares.” My oldest daughter cried a few times, prayed a little extra for her mama and especially cried in the car on our way to JFK Airport, after we left her grandparents’ USA home to return to Sweden. She doesn’t talk about him unless I mention him, though. I guessed her way of dealing with the loss was in silent remembrance and prayer.

As explained earlier, every parent and child is different in how they receive, react to and deal with loss. Some might even require therapy and that’s okay. Perhaps, you can even notify their school teachers, ask if there is a school counselor who can keep an extra eye on your child? In the end, we’re all just doing the best we can.

As for my two-year-old, she met her mama for the first and last time in 2021. I am so happy they got to meet and spend time together. Whenever I show her a photograph of Robin (Ryhan), she says, “That’s mama.” And I will keep showing her photographs because I don’t want her to forget even though scientifically, kids forget everything before the age of three. So, she won’t remember ever meeting her mama,  but she will have the photographs and she will understand that he loved her very much.

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