My son was just 10 years old when his dad died. Old enough to understand. Old enough to feel the magnitude of his loss. Yet also young enough to not be able to express his feelings and emotions. On this Children’s Grief Awareness Day, it is important to remember that children are not young adults. And that they grieve differently than adults.
After Jared died, my grief counselor gave me the best piece of wisdom and advice.. He looked at me and said remember, your son will grieve differently than you. Give him the space to grieve in his own way. And he also said at each milestone, Steven will grieve as if he is grieving for the first time. He said we as adults grieve the past, the present, and the future while young children grieve the now. They don’t have the ability to grasp all that will change so they don’t rieve the future. So as the future arrives, they grieve like it is the first time. That piece of advice has helped me more than my grief counselor will ever know.
And Steven’s counselor was also wonderful. She told him that he was too young to take on the worry of adult problems. That if he was worrying about an adult problem (like money or staying in our house), that he needed to write it down and give it to a trusted adult. Me, his grandma, or an adult family friend. Many people expected him to be “the man of the house” now that his dad was gone. And several people actually told him that. But his counselor gave him permission to be a kid. Told him it was not his responsibility to be a man of the house. That he should love and care about his mom but he didn’t need to be a grown up. I still love her for that.
The first day my son was to return to school, he said he couldn’t go because he didn’t know who would pick him up. I told him I would. I assumed he knew that but he needed to hear the words and be reassured that I would be there.
When he started middle school, he had trouble concentrating, getting his assignments completed, and he wouldn’t let me help with homework (something his dad had always done). He was grieving. Middle school was the start of something new. Something his dad would not be a part of. I remembered our counselors words and advice and gave him space to grieve.
The end of his 8th grade year was an even more trying time. He was confirmed in the church. Graduated and left the only school he had ever known. And we were making a decision regarding high school. He once again grieved as if his father had just died. He became withdrawn. Let his grades drop. And missed his father in a way no words could ever describe. I made sure he had regular visits with his counselor who helped him with his grief. And gave me advice how to help Steven through that period of grief.
When he started high school and played in his first high school football game, he grieved. We both wished his dad could be there. Would have given almost anything to make that wish come true. With this new milestone, Steven’s grief was not as intense as I had previously noticed. He seemed to have the tools and was more capable of handling his grief.
I can only imagine how he will grieve when he graduates high school, begins and graduates college, gets married, has children. So many more milestones to come in his future. And he will grieve at each one. And so will I. We will grieve differently, but equally. And hopefully with our grief counselors and the tools we have learned, we will manage through our grief. Celebrate the joyous moments and honor the past.
When we lose our spouse, it changes not just us but our children. It made my son grow up overnight. Stole a part of his innocence. Forever changed him. It made him more compassionate, empathetic. Drew him closer to his faith. Taught him that life can change in the blink of an eye. Showed him to make the most of each day. Created a bond between the two of us no one could break. And his grief will continue to be a part of his life. His loss will shape his future.
He was such a young child when his father died. A child who learned too soon about loss and grief. He will carry that loss and grieve his entire life. And until he becomes an adult, he will grieve the only way he knows how…like a child.