Children grieve in their own way. In their own time. And we need to support them in their grief. Today, Children’s Grief Awareness Day is a day to remember that children grieve differently. That children hurt too. That children need to be allowed to honor their feelings.
My late husband died when my son was only 10. At 10, he knew death was permanent. He knew he would never see his father again. He knew his life changed forever. But he grieved the present. He grieved because he was missing his dad right then. He did not grieve the future that his dad would miss. A trusted counselor told me, children don’t grieve the future. They grieve the here and now. And as they grow and achieve new developmental milestones or life accomplishments, they grieve as if the loss just happened.
At least for my son, this has been true.
When Jared first died, Steven obviously grieved. He cried frequently. Refused to go to certain restaurants. Talked about how much he missed his dad. He would even leave notes that said I miss you dad. And he shared his grief with me. We often would cry together. I wanted him to know it was OK to be sad. That it was OK to miss his dad. And that he could always talk to me about it.
Overtime, he stopped expressing his grief. He would occasionally say I miss my dad. He would get very quiet. But he rarely cried.
When he was completing eighth grade, I noticed a change in him. He had attended the same school his entire life. And his eighth grade year was a big one. He would be leaving that school and venturing off to high school. His new school, his new friends wouldn’t know his dad. He was also preparing to get confirmed in the Catholic Church. Two huge life accomplishments that his dad was missing. And I noticed he became very sullen. His grades slipped. For the first time ever, my straight A student didn’t have a perfect report card. But the hardest part for me was he didn’t want to talk to me about it. His grief counselor advised me it was because Steven was afraid of upsetting me. He didn’t want to make me cry. He didn’t want to make me sad. So he was keeping his feelings to himself to protect his mom. I talked to him. Told him it was OK to express his emotions. That yes it would make me sad but I was already sad. He finally did express some of his grief but he never really cried. The way he expressed his grief had changed in those three years.
Fast forward another three years. Steven turned 16. Got his driver’s license. Became an Eagle Scout. Huge developmental milestones. Huge life accomplishments. And once again his dad missed it. He talked about how he wished that Jared could be here. And he knows his dad is proud of him. How his dad would have taught him to drive differently than I did. That his dad would’ve been really good at his Eagle Scout project. For the first time, Steven included his dad. I didn’t have to start the conversation, he did. The way he handles his grief is changing. Because he is changing.
This September marked 6 years since Jared died. And this year, was the first year since Jared’s first angelversary, that Steven visibly grieved. He just let it out. Cried. Sobbed. Talked about how much he missed his dad. And I just sat and held him. Cried with him. This year, he grieved differently than he has in years past. Part of that could be because he’s older. And I think part of that is because of his grief counselor. He and his grief counselor discussed Jared‘s angelversary. Steven commented how much he missed his dad but that he didn’t want to upset me. Make me sad. And his counselor encouraged him to just show his emotion. That I would be OK. But it would actually be good for me to see him grieve. I am so grateful to his counselor. Helpful to Steven had someone he could talk to. Grateful that someone encouraged him to express his emotions. Grateful that he trusted me.
Steven’s grief has changed over the last six years. He’s no longer a little boy missing his dad. He’s a young man missing his dad. He has achieved so many milestones that his dad missed. We have celebrated so many accomplishments that his dad missed. And Steven has had to learn how to cope with that. How to celebrate while grieving. And with the help of an amazing grief counselor, he has been able to do just that.
Grief changes over time. And that is especially true for children. Our job is to help them learn the tools to manage the grief. To encourage them to express their feelings and emotions. To love them on the hardest days. On this, Children’s Grief Awareness Day, show a little extra love to the children in your life who are missing someone. Who are grieving. Who may not know how to express their hurt. Let’s support each other as we learn to manage our grief.