Today is Children’s Grief Awareness Day. I frequently write a blog for this specific day. I usually write it from the perspective of a widowed, solo mom raising a grieving child. But this year, I thought it would be better to ask my grieving child his opinion.
My son was 10 when his dad died. My late husband had cystic fibrosis and was a lung transplant recipient. Unfortunately, after his second lung transplant he developed an infection in his transplanted lung so we spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital the last four years he was alive. Which means my son spent a lot of time in the hospital. It became his second home. He was quite comfortable there. He knew all the nurses and doctors. Knew his way around. And was never scared. It was normal to go see daddy at the hospital. And he never worried. Because his daddy always came home.
The night my late husband died, one of the hardest things for me was telling my son his dad had died and gone to heaven. And in that moment I saw his world collapse. I watched as our tragedy ripped his innocence away. And I knew that his life was never going to be the same.
I have watched him grieve the loss of his dad every day for the last seven years. It has been especially hard the last few years. My son is in high school and will be graduating in May. There has been so much his dad has missed. His 16th birthday, teaching him to drive a car, his first date, going to the playoffs with his high school football team, watching him become an Eagle Scout. Not to mention all of the little, day-to-day things that my son wishes his dad could be here for. So I asked him what he wanted other people to know about his grief.
He said that it never goes away. He will miss his dad every day for the rest of his life. He said he doesn’t feel bad every day. And most days are good days. But there are moments of sadness with big events. That he doesn’t constantly need to be reminded that his dad is gone or would be proud of him. And that not every kid wants to celebrate their dead parent on the anniversary of their death. That sometimes it’s OK for anniversaries and special events to just be normal days.
Recently, it was my son’s senior night for football. I thought he’d want to carry a picture of his dad as we walked across the field. But he said no. He didn’t need to hold the picture to know his dad was there. For him, a lot of his grief is internal. He doesn’t need to show the world he’s grieving. He grieves privately. I was proud that he felt comfortable enough to tell me what he needed that day.
He told me to tell parents to ask their children what they want. Because the way the kids want to remember, celebrate, and grieve might be different. And then listen to the kids. Don’t make them participate if they don’t want to. My son said he would tell others that grief is individual. And that he grieves differently than I do.
My son likes to talk about his dad. He loves to hear stories about what his dad was like, especially at his age. And he laughs when I tell him he has his father’s sense of humor. But he doesn’t like it when at a celebration for his accomplishments, everyone tells him I’m sorry your dad can’t be here or your dad would be proud of you. He said it hurts and makes it difficult to enjoy the day. He said he doesn’t mind if a couple of people tell him but when he hears it over and over again it makes the day harder. He said I know my dad is not here and I know he’s proud of me, everyone telling me constantly only makes it worse.
On this Children’s Grief Awareness Day, I encourage everyone to talk with the grieving children in your life. Ask them what they need? How can you help them with their grief? And what makes their grief harder? And really listen to their answers. Children have so much to say about grief. And we as parents raising grieving children, we need to listen.