We recently said goodbye to Great Grandma (GG) as she left us very suddenly a couple weeks ago. Our oldest son (almost 5 years old) had the opportunity to visit GG in the hospital before she passed away, and her illness gave us opportunity to prepare him for the inevitable loss of our beloved. He had many questions and thoughts on the idea of GG dying. Upon her passing, everyone had their own input to offer him about where GG went and what happens next. At one point my son and I had a long lasting disagreement in the grocery store about whether or not GG was a zombie.
My husband and I struggled with whether or not to include him in the funeral, at one point we were going to bring him until my mom made a really good point. Her thoughts were that instead of trying to fit Ajax into an adult way of saying goodbye at a funeral, we create our own way of helping him say goodbye. What a brilliant idea. So over the next few days we encouraged him to draw some pictures and write some notes of what he would like to say to GG on our Goodbye GG Day. We answered his questions about what will happen to GG’s body now that she was dead and allowed him to express his sadness.
On the day of the Funeral, my parents watched both the boys, so that we could be there for my husband’s family. The funeral was a traditional French Catholic ceremony, at the end I didn’t feel I had the closure I needed in saying goodbye to GG, so I’m not sure why I thought our oldest son would.
The next day we proceeded with plan Goodbye GG Day. Our oldest son asked if he could bring his camera and we agreed. We gathered the pictures that our son had drawn and the messages he had written and loaded the four of us into the van. The destination was the graveyard where GG’s ashes were buried. We made two stops on our way; one to purchase some flowers and another to pick up some balloons in GG’s favorite colour.
At the graveyard we walked around talking about the headstones and why you shouldn’t step or climb on them. He played in the leaves and took some pictures; finally we walked over to where GG was buried. At GG’s headstone we pointed out that Great Grandpa was buried there a long time ago and now GG was too. We talked about how GG’s body turned into dust and would eventually become part of the earth and help plants to grow. We laid the flowers we brought and our oldest left his pictures and “GoodBi GG” note in a plastic bag with some rocks in it. We walked around some more, and visited with a lady and her Theo Dog (daschund) whose property bordered the graveyard; while our oldest played in the thousands of leaves that had collected at the edge of the fence.
Just before it was time to go we took the balloons we had gotten and attached one of our son’s notes that read, “Sorry GG that you died.” Our son let them go and we said good bye as the balloons floated away. On our way home we had some hot chocolate to warm our insides, as it was a chilly day. On the drive home I asked our son if it was good to say goodbye to GG, “Yes Mom,” he said in his sad voice, and then he proceeded to ask if he could watch a movie when we got home.
Everyone grieves differently and children are no different. Early lessons in death are sometimes the hardest ones for children to grasp, but I feel we did right by GG and our family. When it comes to death, it is easy to take ourselves very seriously, but I am grateful for children who have a wonderful way of lightening even the darkest moments with laughter. Whether it’s questions of zombies, why robots are helping Grandma breath, or them wondering why you can’t see someone at their grave site; their innocence can keep us from getting to caught up in the traditions of saying goodbye while forgetting to actually say goodbye.
So with that I say goodbye and au revoir GG, we love you and are missing you!