Children’s Grief Awareness Day – I wish I could see from their eyes.
As Children’s Grief Awareness Day approaches, I began to reflect on the grief my sons have had in these past 2 ½ years. The ups and downs, the milestones that were missed, the birthdays that came and he was not here.
Grief before he was gone
It is weird that I am writing this today of all days. This is a significant day in my memory. 11/18/16 was the day I convinced Jerry to see his Dr. about his pain in his side. This was the day 3 years ago that started it all, and 12 weeks later he was gone.
I sometimes try to put myself in my sons shoes and try to imagine what it was like for them in those 12 weeks leading up to his death. For the first few weeks, it must have just seemed as if mom and dad were going to the dr a lot. We didn’t say anything detailed to them in the beginning because we did not know what was happening. We felt it was bad, but we didn’t want to believe it. We asked our oldest to watch his brother a lot. After about a few weeks, I told my oldest that we think that dad is really sick, and that the doctors were confirming it, but we would let him know once we know. Once we got the Cancer diagnosis, we told him, and Jerry (their dad) decided to tell our youngest on his own when I was at the store. (he was 8 years old) What could these children have thought? We were trying to protect them, and they trusted us. They didn’t ask to many questions, and just went with the flow of trying to get dad better.
On 1/18/17, Jerry got his first Chemo treatment. That same day while we were at the dr, our youngest had to leave school sick with a bad stomach virus. I remember thinking, it was as if he was feeling sick because his dad was. It felt like it was all connected.
One 2/11/17 After 3 treatments Jerry needed to go to the ER. he was feeling really bad and we did not know what to do. He never left the hospital and died on 2/20/17. Both of my children where there. They saw death, they saw their father lifeless….how have they made it through the past few years after that? I often wonder.
Now how to I help them?
My poor boys….What where they thinking? I don’t remember much from the last few weeks. I remember that I left it up to my 17 year old to pretty much take care of his brother. You see, we lived in California at the time without any other family. I had the help of some friends, but family didn’t arrive until the last few days. I live with this guilt of what I put on them. Did I give them too much to handle on their own? Will they resent me for it?
But kids…I have learned on this journey are SO resilient and smart. 7 days after Jerry died we were leaving our home to get on a plane, and I knew we would probably not be back. I was crying, hugging them both. My 8 year old looked up to me and said, “Mom, It’s ok not to be ok” How did he know what to say, and that I needed to hear that?
Since then, we moved back to North Carolina, changed schools again, my oldest turned 18, then 19 and now almost 20. He graduated High School, Did a year of college, is working 2 jobs moved out on his own and still trying to follow his dream. My youngest, turned, 9, then 10, and 11, graduated 5th grade, started middle school, has straight A’s, plays soccer. Life went on….it had to, and I had to make it as easy as I could for them. I bought a house, changed careers, found love again.
How could they handle all of these changes? They have loved me, and encouraged me, they have been my biggest fan, and held me up. MY CHILDREN did this for me. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way? Don’t get me wrong, everything that I do is for them. We keep dads memory alive, we talk about him, laugh about him and watch videos of him. We say “Remember when dad….” more times than I can count.
My youngest had a really tough time the first few months after Dad died, he pretty much cried every night and then didn’t sleep in a bed alone until about a year later. We did counseling and children’s grief groups, we make art and painted rocks for Dad, we planted a tree and released balloons. All of these things help, they really do. Doing things and getting children involved in the process can help them with grief. Letting them cry when they need, or giving them space. The resiliency in kids is amazing, and sometimes it can make you think that they they handle it so much better than we as adults do. But they process it different, I have learned that. They have triggers too. Things that can push them back into grief. My counselor told me that my youngest may not really face his grief for a few years, and that the teenage years may bring a whole new onset of sadness and even rebellion. Be prepared for that.
My oldest, who never talks about his grief, sent me a text the other day and told me that he broke down to his friend about his dad and really cried. He was telling her about him and it all came out. I reminded him that he always has me to talk to but that sometimes talking to someone about your grief, that is not in your direct grief circle, really can help. He has really been missing dad lately and began to open up with me about it (Even if through texts) He said it felt good to get it out and talk. So many times I have tried to talk to him about processing his grief and he just nods….but on his own terms, he found a way to release it. I am happy about that.
I wish I could see through their eyes to understand how they feel. It would help me help them more. I know that they miss him, and that they are aware of all of the outlets available to them if they need it. Give your kids a chance to speak, or give them space when they need it. Remind them of how much they were loved by their dad. My boys do have many wonderful memories of him and I know that some children did not get that time before their dad was gone. I am grateful for that.