November 21st is Children’s Grief Awareness Day, as this day approaches it’s important to take time to think about how children grieve and the impact it has on families. My children were so young when my husband passed, that I wasn’t sure they were even go to remember him. How was going to keep his memory alive? How could I ever begin to share all the details and little nuiances that made up their Dad ? How was I going to grieve and help these little people grieve too? How could I possibly explain this to them? How could I help them process one of the most devastating losses that a person has to go through in their life, at their young ages? The answer to all of this is family, friends and Safe Harbor.
Safe Harbor is a grief counseling group for children and families who have experienced a loss. Most of the children in the group have lost a parent. However there are a few who have lost a sibling or grandparent. The children and their parent or caregiver attend bi-weekly and to say it saved my life is an understatement. My girls and I would go, they would go to their group, which was made up of other children in their age range and I would go to the parent room. The activities they would do were developmentally appropriate for their age and they processed their grief with other kids who understood the loss. They were surrounded by kids just like them. They didn’t feel different at all, all the kids got each other. Each week a different topic was discussed and activities were done to reinforce the topic. Art, Music, and play were all part of the process. My girls loved it. They became so comfortable talking about their Dad and his death that it was almost as though it processed itself.
Grief through the eyes of children is so different than through the eyes of an adult. Depending on the circumstances around the death, children will blame themselves or have guilt issues surrounding their loved one. Children also, depending on their developmental stage, may not understand the finality of the loss. They will think the loved one is coming back. It’s so important to answer children’s questions and be honest. Although it’s difficult, especially if you are grieving too, but being honest about the death is key. My husband was sick for about 18 months when he passed, so my children knew that he was dying. We talked about it and I did the best I could to help them process, but they still struggled and continue to struggle with losing their Dad. There is no checklist for how to help a child process death, but being open and aware that every child is going to deal with it differently. We talk about their Dad, we tell stories, we have pictures in our house and they still have bad days. Sometimes I don’t know what maybe making one of my kids upset, and after some investigating and discussions, they are just sad about their Dad. Maybe they saw someone with their Dad, maybe it’s an event at school , maybe it’s a holiday or maybe it’s just a day when a hug from Dad would make everything better.
It’s important to let children grieve the way they need to. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, but keeping communication lines open is most important. Experiencing a loss as a child, is something that changes your life forever. It effects how you navigate the world, your foundation about life is totally shaken. Having to be the kid who lost a parent is difficult. Kids just want to be like everyone else, this makes them different. My daughter is in high school now and when we go to events at her school, where parents are in attendance, she feels different. She is aware of the void in her life. She deals with it better now, then in the beginning but it still stings. Days like that are reminders that her Dad is no longer with us. We are surviving, life is moving forward and the tears are less than before, but losing a parent is a pain that will never go away, just be there for your child and allow them to grieve their way and in their time.