Big Grief in Small People

On the car ride to the hospital, even before I knew my dad had died, I worried about what I would say to Bean.  Gracie is really too little to understand or to even know that something is wrong, but Bean Man was a different story.  He’s old enough to know when something is going on.  And he was really close with my dad.


I asked my mom the first night what she thought we should tell Bean.  I was at a complete loss, but I knew he would wake up at Nana and Granddad’s house and ask where Granddad was.  My mom said she didn’t care what we told him, but please not to tell him that Granddad was in the koi pond with Lt. Dan

Fair enough.

The next morning when Bean woke up, he predictably asked about Granddad.  So, Chris and I took him back into his bedroom (he and Gracie have their own room at my parent’s house) and sat down with him.   We told him that Granddad had gone to live at God’s house in Heaven, and that we wouldn’t see him anymore.  But that he still loved us and we still loved him, and that we could talk to him when we said our prayers to God.  Bean thought about it for a minute, nodded, and then got down from the bed and went to watch TV.  Chris and I didn’t want to push anything on Bean, so we let him go on his own for a while.

That morning, in the midst of all our own tears, neighbors and friends of my parents were in and out of the house.  In the chaos, I slipped away to find Bean, who I hadn’t seen in a while.  I found him in my parent’s room, sitting on their bed, watching a movie.  When I asked him if he wanted to come out and sit with us, he said no.  He ended up sitting on their bed for about three and a half hours, which is really unlike Bean.  He didn’t say anything, but you could tell he wanted to be by himself.  So, we left him in there, and just kept poking our heads in every half hour or so and inviting him out to the living room with us.  I think he could tell something was going on, and I’m sure all that raw emotion was really hard for him to see.  In hindsight, I’m glad he had the foresight to separate himself, really.

For the next 24 hours, Bean didn’t mention my dad at all.  That in and of itself is really strange.  Bean always talked a lot about my dad.  Another thing he did was stop referring to things as “Nana and Granddad’s”-something.  It was always “Nana and Granddad’s chair,” or “Nana and Granddad’s bed,” or “Nana and Granddad’s car.”  Suddenly, everything was Nana’s.  There was not one mention of my dad.  I know that may not seem strange when you read it, but it was very strange behavior for Bean.  Still, though, we left him alone.  We would check in with him and made sure to hug him extra hard and we got him out of the house a bit and went for a walk around the neighborhood.  But we didn’t ask him about Granddad or force him to talk more about it.

On Monday night, my mom went to bed early, and before I went in there with her (she and I slept together in her and my dad’s bed for those first few nights), I went outside to call my sister.  I was really struggling that afternoon, and sometimes only a sister can pull you through something.  She and I talked and cried and laughed and cried some more for over an hour.  It was the hardest I’d cried since my dad had died.  Bean must have seen me outside at some point because when I came inside to say goodnight to him, he was sitting up in his dark, quiet bedroom all by himself.

I laid down next to him and put my face right next to his. He took his index finger and traced my cheek, where a tear would fall.  Something very unlike Bean to do.

“Mom,” he whispered.  “Are you sad?”

“Yes, buddy.  I’m sad.”

“Is it because of Granddad?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.  “I miss Granddad a lot.  Do you miss him?”

“Yeah,” he said.  “I miss him a lot, too.”

“That’s okay,” I told him.  “I think we’re going to miss him for a long time.”

Bean sat there for a second and then said, “Maybe tomorrow, we could go sit in his chair!”

“That’s a great idea!” I said.

“Okay, mom,” he said brightly.  “You come get me in the morning and we can go sit in Granddad’s chair together.”

“Sounds great!” I said.

And the next morning, that’s exactly what we did.

Bean still has been very quiet this week, and we continue to not question him or push him to talk about Granddad.  But we are trying to pay special attention to him and give him some extra loving.

Last night at bedtime, Bean asked if we could read a family picture album that my mom put together for Bean’s second birthday.  In that album were quite a few pictures of my dad, and Bean pointed him out and we talked a little bit about him.  Then, after the book was finished, we said our prayers together.  For Bean’s bedtime prayers, I say one little line and then Bean and Chris repeat that line.  Our prayer went something like this, “Dear God, thank you for all the good things that happened today, and thank you for all the bad things that happened today.  Bless our family, and help us to be good boys and girls.  Please take care of our Granddad.  Tell him that we miss him a lot.  Amen.”

I think we are handling Bean’s grief as well as we can.  I keep having to remind myself that, though Bean is small, his grief is big, just like mine.  And that he will grieve differently than me, but it is still grief.  I’m going to call our minister tomorrow and talk with her about some things we can be doing to help Bean through this time.  You can really mess a person up if you don’t handle death the right way, and I don’t want Bean to become afraid of God or death, and I certainly don’t want us to belittle or sidestep his grieving process, whatever it might be.  But, for now, I think he’s doing okay.

There are a lot of things that make me sad right now, but I think Bean might be at the top of my list.  His special relationship with my dad was such a joy for me to see, and such a powerful part of both their lives.  I worry so much that Bean will forget my dad.  Or, more specifically, he’ll forget how much my dad loved him.  I don’t want to force death or my dad’s memory on him, but I also don’t want Bean to put that away in some corner of his mind and forget that incredible feeling of such deep love and pride my dad had in him.

But maybe that’s mine and Chris’s job as parents.  To help him remember, and to help him grieve.  Right now, I’m just lifting my little Beanie up in prayer, that his perfect little heart will feel complete and whole again soon, and that my dad’s spirit will fill him to the brim.

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60 Thoughts to “Big Grief in Small People”

  1. I think it’s good to have kids in a time like this. They force us out of our own heads and force a different perspective. I’m glad you and Chris are being so thoughtful about this. Good job.

  2. You guys are such great parents–during this difficult time and all the time.

  3. Katrina

    My father passed away when I was 14. At the dinner, following the funeral, my mother had laid out 4 journals for the guests to write their memories of him in. She later gave these four books to me and my three brothers. Some of the stories are personal to a particular person and some are about things those people remembered about my Dad saying about us kids. I cherish my little book of memories and feel very close to my dad when I read it. It might be a good idea for Bean to have one made for him. That way he will never forget. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family through this hard time. The pain ever goes away, but it gets easier.

  4. This made me very sad. You are a good mum and Bean sounds like a really perceptive person who is figuring things out, including his own ways of coping. My grandfather died when I was four, and I don’t really know whether I have memories of him, or if what I have is memories made after the fact, composed of photos and other peoples’ stories. But I do feel that I have a strong sense of what kind of person he was, and that he loved his family. My little nephews were very little when my Granny died, and they still talk about her, and they know she loved them. We still keep a lot of pictures of her and my grandfather around, and tell stories, including funny ones, and so I think they know as well what her personality was and how much we loved her. I am sending my thoughts, like in my last comment, especially to your mother. I am glad you have the kind of relationship where you can sleep in the same bed as her. The empty bed seems the hardest.

  5. Sandy

    i love your mom!

  6. Okay, I’m sobbing. I know just how sweet those little boy hearts are and how much they really do understand and how much they really idolize their grandfathers. I’ll be praying for Bean specifically and for you and Christ as you all lead him through this process. Sweet little guy. You’re doing a great job, mama.

  7. Our prayers continue to be with all of you. It sounds like to me you are doing a wonderful job with Bean and allowing him just enough space but still encouraging him to talk about him. I have no doubt he will never forget him nor how much he was loved by him. He will forever live in your memories, stories and photos. And I know your faith will continue to help you all through this difficult time.

  8. Susan S

    My nephew & niece were 4 & 5 when my Dad passed in 2004. My nephew still puts in his prayer, ‘Thank you for taking care of my Papa and help all of the people in the hospital get well.’ It is something that he added on his own and still takes me by surprise every time. I do think that is is important to continue to remember your Dad with them via pictures. I Someone had given my dad a puppy in the hospital when he was sick and we bought each of them a matching puppy and they carried them around for a few months and both still have them set in their rooms. Save them a shirt, or make a blanket with the shirt. Just listen, cause one day they will both tell you something that you didn’t even know about your dad.

  9. Katie

    My grandpa passed away when I was 12 or so. He was my favorite, and at first, my grief was unbearable. I didn’t know how to handle the loss of someone who meant so much at that age.

    But, I have never forgotten (and will never forget) him. When I go visit my family, I will go to his grave alone, and spend a few minutes with him. To this day, I cry. I will never forget the love and the attention that he paid to me.

    It is truly impossible to forget someone who loves you like my grandpa did.

  10. Kelly

    Ohh Katie, that just got me so badly. My husband doesn’t understand why I’m crying about a tragedy that happened to a blogger, who write a blog that I read. But I know you, we all do! We feel joy when you do, and pain when you do too. I wish you nothing but peace as you navigate this tough time. Sending hugs from Minnesota!

  11. Jen Morris

    Your posts have me crying. I can feel your emotion and the sadness that everyone is experiencing. But at the same time I know your faith in God is present and though you dad is missed on Earth he is welcomed in Glory! I have two girls (4 & 8 months). I hope that someday they have the same kind of relationship you and Ginny have. That they can call each other and laugh and cry for an hour. What precious kiddos you have. Sounds like you are walking Bean through this perfectly!

  12. You and Chris are being so wise throughout all of this. I am praying for Bean, and for both of you as you wade through this over the next few weeks, months, and years. I am so thankful for you and your open-ness with all of us. I am praying for Ginny tonight, I can’t wait to see pictures and here about this precious baby boy!

  13. Katie- you have me crying again with this one… You and Chris are such good parents and it sounds like you are handling it beautifully!! I wouldn’t even know where to begin!! I will keep you all in my prayers!!

  14. I think this post made me cry more than your one about your dad. I’m so happy that you moved to FL and Bean got to spend this short time with your dad and even Gracie. I now she won’t remember this last year but you’ll have wonderful memories to give her. I always wished I had more time with my grandparents but I do treasure the photos I have and the stories I’ve heard over and over again.
    Oh, and congratulations on becoming an Auntie very soon 🙂 🙂

  15. I have tears streaming down my face as I finish reading this. I know I don’t really “know” you, but can I just say you and Chris are awesome parents. Bean will remember your Dad and how much he loved him, if not with actual memories, through the stories you’ve collected, and the pictures that go with those stories.

  16. Suzanne

    It’s always so amazing to me how much kids know….or sense…or feel something. They seem to be so oblivious but they aren’t at all. My heart breaks for him and he will most definitely be in my prayers as well as you and your family will continue to be.

  17. Kirsten

    Katie – my heart breaks for you and your entire family, especially bean man. My son was 6 when my mom died so obviously older than bean, but he and my mom were so close. He cries about missing grandma at least once a week, just keep what you’re doing with him and he’ll always have such happy memories of his beloved grandad.

  18. darah

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Bean is so lucky to have you as parents.

  19. Lissa

    I’m so sad for you, but I think you are handling Bean wonderfully. More prayers for you, your sister and her baby boy coming NOW :), and your mother.

  20. I haven’t had to experience this yet, but it sounds like you are doing just the right thing. I know that’s the kind of interaction I want when I’m grieving–give me space, but let me know you’re there for me. You have a sweet little Bean, and I can’t imagine the beautiful mark your dad made on his heart will ever go away.

  21. Lauren

    I just burst into tears reading your post… I commented on your FB the other day, but my situation is similar. My mom is dying of cancer and my daughter is only 20 months old. Although my
    Mom’s death won’t be sudden like your dad’s, I’m still filled with grief and crying a lot. I’ve brought my daughter with me to see my mom in the hospital and worry if it’s damaging to her or good to not keep her from this. I’m so sad that even though my mom loves her so much and she loves Grammy, she’s too little to form lasting memories. I’m sad that she will really only know the love my mom has for her from pictures, video, letters and stories. It’s not enough, but it will have to do… I’m just so sorry for your loss… Know that I’m just one of your many loyal followers crying along with you.

  22. Thank you for sharing such raw emotion. I can’t imagine all that you’re feeling and experiencing right now but kudos to you for putting it out there and for caring so, so much about Bean man.

    Obviously, his granddad was super important to him and if he is anything like I was, he won’t forget him.

    My grandma died when I was five. Although it was fairly sudden, our family knew it was coming and my parents were in Florida with her when she died. We live in Michigan. I still remember my grandma and her chair and sitting with her on Saturday mornings when we would (as many of us as possible) gather as a family for a quick breakfast visit. I still remember the way it felt to see her face light up when we came in.

    When someone so important leaves us so early on, I can assure you, it leaves a memory that he’s likely to never forget.


  23. I am so, so sorry for your loss, Katie! We recently lost our baby and my son was so excited about being a big brother. Helping him grieve has been the hardest part of the process and, honestly, his giref is what breaks my heart the most about the situation. I’ll pray for you guys as you help Bean navigate through his loss!

  24. jen

    I sobbed when i read this post…but it sounds you are doing exactly what Bean needs right now. My grandfather died when i was 7 and my mom told me that when it rains it was just grandpa checking in on us and the rain was his way of still being able to connect with us. I still feel connected to the rain 25 years later. Keeping you all in my thoughts.

  25. Joke

    I too am one of those who has to try not to cry because it’s hard to explain to the boyfriend why I would be doing that for someone I never met in person… I think Bean is one lucky guy to have you two as parents and he sure will never forget his grandpa.

  26. The grieving process for Bean will be very different than it will be for you. My dear friend specializes in bereavement care for families who lose someone unexpectedly in an accident or to illness like your dad. I asked her for some resources & put them in the mail for you. Also from those videos we watch (HBO’s Goodnight Moon and Twas The Night), both have kids talking about parents and grandparents that they lost – and remind everyone that you can always visit your lost ones in your dreams. They never die in your dreams. xxoo

  27. I read this last night and was sobbing by the time I was done. As a mother you have double the heart break. Grieving yourself is hard enough but then to watch your child grieve is even harder. I admire how you’re letting Bean handle it. How you’re there for him but giving him time. I wish I had some great words of wisdom, but I don’t. Just know you are all in the thoughts and prayers of so many.

  28. Kat

    Oh Katie, this post just makes me cry – the raw emotions that you’re feeling coupled with a toddler learning about death is so much to handle. I’m so amazed at how logical you are in your thinking through this and how much you care to make sure that Bean is taken care of when you yourself are in so much pain. Yo continue to impress me. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  29. It sounds like you are handling Bean’s grief very well. It is amazing how even the youngest of children somehow have some understanding of death and they kind of know how to handle it.

  30. Lee Ann

    Katie, while I had tears streaming down my face as I read this, I was also giggling just a little at your mom’s request NOT to tell Bean that his granddad was in the koi pond with Lt. Dan. I would love to know your family! Thank you for sharing this.

  31. My heart goes out to you all and to Bean. Poor little guy…it’s tough enough to comprehend death as an adult. As a little guy, I couldn’t even imagine.

  32. Anne

    He has such a sweet, gentle soul. Speaking as a non-parent, I think you guys are handling this perfectly by letting him sort out his thoughts on his own time. My grandmother died when I was about his age, and while I certainly wish I could have had more time with her, I have many fond memories of our time together. Even though he’s little, Bean’s memories of his grandpa will always stay with him.

  33. This post seriously made me tear up at work. I just wanted to say that you two are seriously great parents. Your children are lucky to have the family they have.

  34. Catherine

    I am so sad for y’all and am praying for Bean, you, and your whole family (including your new nephew!). It sounds like you are approaching the grieving process in a very healthy way; my thoughts will continue to be with you all.

  35. Oh, Katie. This made me cry. I can only imagine what you and your family are going through right now. I think you are doing everything you can possibly do for Bean. And if these actions of his truly are unusual, I think it’s his little way of saying that he won’t forget your dad. Ever. God bless all of you.

  36. Kelly H.

    I sobbed through this post. I think that helping the kids deal with loss is the hardest part just because it is a hard concept for them to understand. Again, I am so sorry for your loss.

  37. Cassi

    This post made me cry. You and Chris are such great parents. I am praying for your whole family through this difficult time.

  38. Amy VH

    I just wanted to tell you that I am praying for you and for your family. I appreciate your complete honesty with how you are dealing with this and with Bean. I admire that so much. Praying for you.

  39. I am crying for all of your pain, for the thought of having to explain death to my own son, and for your amazing father. You are all in my prayers. I lost my grandfather when I was 4, and while I don’t have many distinct memories, I do have a few, and more importantly, I still feel what his presence felt like, if that makes sense? I still can picture what I felt like watching him sitting in his big recliner presiding over us all. And that is comforting.

  40. Jen

    What a sweet sweet little Bean you have! And he is blessed to have been sent to you and Chris. You are all in my prayers.

  41. Emily S.

    Ever since my mom passed away 2 years ago, we celebrate “Nana Day” on her birthday. We eat her favorite foods, watch her favorite movies, talk about Nana, etc. We also skype with my sisters and their families, as well as my dad, since we all live in different states to share how we’re celebrating the day. It’s a great way to set aside time and reflect and remember your loved one. And since my daughter was too young to remember her Nana, it’s a way for her to learn more about what her Nana was like.

  42. Leah

    I cried, then I went back to look at your Koi pond post and I laughed/cried. That’s hilarious that your mom remembered that. I hope she said that to you in jest.

    Are you a new aunt yet? 🙂

  43. Katie, I am so sorry for what your family is going through right now. I rarely/never comment, but read all the time. This post about Bean is just so lovely, and I mean that in the “absolutely full of love” kind of way.

  44. Meredith J

    I read this at work and had to try my best to keep my tears back… I really am feeling for your family and little Bean man. What a smart little guy, it must be hard to watch him deal and understand what’s going on around him. The little girl I used to nanny’s Papa passed away in a very similar heart attack that no one saw coming. A few weeks after (she was about 4 at the time) she was really worried she wouldn’t see her other family members again and got sad about it sometimes. Bean just needs to know everyone is there for him and talks to the rest of his family alot so he feels comfortable that they’re still there.
    My prayers are with you guys!!!!

  45. I may have had to re-do my make-up after reading this before work this morning. Excellent.

  46. Sharon

    This is the first time I have ever commented. I wanted to let you know that your precious family is in my thoughts and prayers. I can’t even begin to imagine the grief with which you are dealing. My prayer is that you all will be filled with a peace that surpasses all understanding.

  47. Hilary

    As I write this, my mom is reading to my daughter and my dad just put my son in his crib for bed. I am going to hug them extra hard for me, but even harder for my kids who think their grandparents are the greatest people alive. My maternal grandmother passed away when I was seven and I still feel her absence and miss her, almost 30 years later. Bean will remember his grandpa, and you and Chris will help him keep the memories fresh.

  48. Corinn

    Katie, I sobbed as I read this. My Porter is the exact same age as Bean and I can’t even imagine having to try and explain something like this to him. He is also extremely close to his nanas and papas and I can’t imagine the void that would leave in his little heart. I am praying for you all during this huge transitions and for all of your hearts as they heal. & I just want to pick Bean up and give him a great big hug.

  49. Cece and Chris Melillo

    Katie and Chris,
    we are so sorry of your loss and know that the two of you will help out Bean through this difficult time in your life. He will always have a place in his heart and mind of your father and you know that Angels always come to the ones they love and especially to the little ones! Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time. We miss you guys:)

  50. Colleen

    Oh friend, when I saw what this post was about I wasn’t sure I would be able to read it without sobbing. I was right! My heart breaks for Bean but he is so lucky to have such awesome parents who are allowing him to grieve in his own way. Still praying for you all…

  51. Chris Jarrett

    This post was so extremely powerful and so heartbreaking all at the same time. I couldn’t help but draw parallels between Bean and myself (except the whole age difference). I was extremely close with my grandfather who died in 2008. It was the hardest event in my life and to this day I think of him . I handled it very similar to Bean, I went to be by myself and think. Little things like “grandad’s chair” helped me remember my grandfather and how amazing he was. Bean will forever remember his loving, awesome, granddad. You guys are awesome parents Katie and Chris!

  52. Jennie

    First, I wanted to say: I’m sorry to hear about your loss. I’ve been reading your blog for over three years and know how much your family means to you. Second, I admire your courage in not only allowing yourself to grieve (and expressing it here), but giving Bean the space to grieve in his own way.

  53. Becky

    Oh goodness. Such tears fell reading this post. Just love Bean, kiss him, cuddle him and try to lift his spirits by doing as many grandpa things as he used to, I can’t imagine how much more it hurts when you’re grieving for your mother and your son and yourself at the same time. Be brave Katie and don’t forget that people don’t expect you to be okay. It’s expected to be absolutely heart broken. Sending you all love. X

  54. Susan

    Katie, I lost my grandmother when I was five. I know that I realized that she was not coming back at the funeral it just hit me that she was not going to be around anymore. My Mom and I talked about it and she was concerned since I did not cry until the pastor started talking at the funeral service. Even though I was young I know that I love to cook because of my grandmother. I am thinking of you and your family.

  55. My eldest son was 5 when my dad died from a heart attack and my twins were 2. Something we did that helped hugely was to take all the grandchildren to Build-a-Bear where they all made a ‘Pa Bear’ to take with them to Dad’s funeral. My niece & nephew were 7 and they put a letter they’d written to Pa inside their bears along with a photo of them with him. My guys chose to put extra hearts inside their Pa Bears because they loved him so much. The kids chose what outfits their Pa Bears would wear and each one was significant to them in some way. My nephew chose a t-shirt with a BMX on it because Pa always went to watch him ride. We even made one for my baby girl who wasn’t born yet. On the day of the funeral, the 5 grandchildren carried their Pa Bears into the chapel and caused more than a few tears on the way, but it was absolutely what was needed for our family. They had their Pa Bears to cling to and boy, did they cling. Almost 2 years on and all the kids still talk about & cuddle their Pa Bears. Sometimes my boys will take theirs to bed and we always have wonderful discussions about Pa. My baby girl doesn’t totally get the significance yet but she knows it’s her special Pa Bear.

    The other thing we did was ask the kids if they wanted to put anything in Pa’s coffin. My niece wrote a letter and my nephew put in some car DVDs he’d bought Pa for Father’s Day. My eldest couldn’t yet write but he told me what he wanted to say & I wrote it for him, then he drew a picture. It said, ‘Dear Pa, I miss you lots. I can’t wait to see you again in heaven. Love Sam.’

    Little people do have big grief indeed… Much love xx

  56. Oh, and one of the hardest moments of my life was telling Sam that Dad had died. He was old enough to understand what that meant and sobbed and sobbed. He loved his Pa to pieces. He has his own memories of Pa – and my twins do too, to some extent – but for my baby girl, Hannah, she has to make do with second hand memories that will feel like her own. I wrote a song or her for her baby dedication called Before You Were Born tat was inspired by the knowledge of just how much my dad loved her, even though he never got to meet her. Her birth, her 1st birthday, her baby dedication – all those special times were celebrated amidst tears that Dad wasn’t there, but I know how much he adored her and it’s my job to make sure she knows that too. My mum and Hannah are exceptionally close and I think God sent Hannah to be Mum’s special comforter 🙂 oh, and I slept in bed with my mum for those first few nights too x

  57. Katie, I just wanted you to know that all of your posts have been so beautiful, touching and heartbreaking. I’ve cried as I read all of them, and I’ve prayed and thought of you and your incredibly strong family every day. LOVE you all. xoxo

  58. Shelley

    I’ve just read your sad news & I am so sorry. I Usually check your blog daily but havnt for about a week. How incredibly sad for you, your Mom & family.
    Poor little Bean man 🙁 My son was just 3 when my daughter died suddenly. I know he grieved but had know way of putting it in to words.
    How beautiful that Bean wanted to sit with you in your Dads chair xx

  59. kiersten

    I wasn’t as young as Bean but I lost my father when I was seven. And I never got to really mourn for him because I felt I had to be a big girl about it and not break down in front of my mom. I am sincerly suggesting telling Bean that whenever he feels sad he can always talk to you guys and it’s ok to cry and be sad. At the same time don’t pressure him into talking about it. Just let him know you guys are there for him for anything. Prayers to you all!

  60. Rachel @ The Ongoing Planner

    I’m just reading through all of these posts on your dad (in a random order) and this one was the one that made me cry. All of them are hard for me to read. Maybe it is because this one was the last one you have written so far so I was holding out until the end. Maybe it is that even at 24 I feel like I have only have a few experiences with death and I can’t imagine the experience at such a young age. Mostly it is just that outside of my husband, losing my dad would be one of the most shocking experiences. Thank you so much for writing about this, beautifully as always.

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