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‘Grandma can do cartwheels again’: giving kids a heavenly perspective on death

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Telling your child a loved one has died is one of the hardest things for parents to do.

I learned this firsthand when my wife’s mother died recently. Our daughters were very close to “Grandma Jean.” She lived a few minutes from our home. She saw them four or five times a week over the last decade from the time Nicki was born and Jessica was adopted from China. This included my daughters’ frequent visits with her the past seven or eight months as she bounced between hospitals and nursing homes. Day by day they saw her slowly go from active senior with a zest for life to frail, bedridden and suffering.

Jean passed away early the morning of August 27 after an agonizing year. While my wife slept after a mostly sleepless night, I knew I would need to tell my girls the news before taking them to their volleyball team practice.

Revealing what happened to Grandma Jean was difficult.

The words came slowly as if God were pulling them one by one out of my mouth. I knew it would upset my kids to learn the news. As parents, our first instinct is to protect our children from such hurt.

Jessica sobbed for a few minutes after hearing what happened. She was especially tight with Grandma. Jean was very protective of Jessie as an adoptive child, making sure Jessie knew she was fully part of the family.

On the other hand, what Nicki said was a pleasant relief.

“Grandma’s not in any more pain, is she, Dad?” she asked.

“You’re right. She’s with God in heaven now and back with her own mommy and her son (who’d died 14 years earlier) because they both knew Jesus. God has given Grandma a new body. She’ll never feel pain again.”

“I bet Grandma’s running around on her new legs,” Nicki added with a smile.

When we took the girls to Jean’s visitation the next week, Nicki made a similar remark. “I think Grandma’s doing cartwheels in heaven,” she said after we saw Jean in the casket. Grandma had once told the girls that she could execute cartwheels as a child, which amazed them coming from an 82-year-old woman.

Nicki’s comments were salve to her mom and grandpa and an answer to prayer. As it became clear that Jean would not recover, we had asked God to prepare the girls’ hearts for their grandma’s imminent home-going. We wanted them to fully believe that Grandma would be in heaven after her earthly body died because she had trusted Jesus as her Savior.

Both of our daughters expressed an eternal viewpoint of their grandma’s passing, at least from what we could gather by talking with them and observing their responses since she died. They miss seeing Jean, but they’ve both embraced Christ as their Savior and look forward to “doing cartwheels with Grandma in heaven” someday.

We’ve also prayed with our kids for God to use Grandma’s passing to bring non-churched relatives and friends to Him. Our girls understand that Jesus is the only way to heaven and that some of the people dear to Grandma haven’t yet trusted Him for eternal life.

Grandma’s death has further cemented a heavenly perspective in their hearts … as sometimes only real-life experience can.

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