Happy February! The start of 2020 has been rough for me, in fact January was one of the worst months of my life. My mother suffered a mild stroke the week before the start of winter break. She was hospitalized but sadly passed away on January 2, 2020. I don’t know if there is a word in the English language that describes how I felt or how I still feel. There is an empty space in my heart that aches. My parents divorced when I was about 10 years old so my core family became my mom, my two older brothers and me. Both of my brothers passed away unexpectedly years ago, only 18 months apart. My mom helped me get through that. Now with her gone as well, I feel so lonely like I have no family, no history. All of that to say, these past weeks have been beyond difficult managing my grief and that of my three children. I lost my mom, but they also lost their grandma, someone they were very close to.
I realized that I needed to keep an eye on my daughters. Yes, they had experienced loss before through distance family members but this was the first very close death they’ve experienced. They were very young when their uncles passed away, so I knew this process was going to be different. And then Kobe Bryant, his daughter and 7 others lost their lives in a horrific helicopter accident. Grief become center stage around the world. I knew many of my students looked up to Kobe. In fact one of my students has his name. This just heightened my concern about not only my children but those in my care during the school day.
The initial response to grief is that we have to fix it or make it go away. But grief is not a problem to be fixed. It’s an experience that we go through. When dealing with children and grief, we need to help them process their grief and learn how to continue to live through it. Depending on how much the child identified with the person, this can be a daunting task. We have to take into account that the child must now learn to live without this person in their life. Even if it was through sports, entertainment or a close family connection it can be hard for a child to make sense of it all.
What to Do
It can be overwhelming to think about what to do, so I came up with some beginning steps that will be helpful when navigating the grief experience with a child:
Plain English Please!
Or whatever language is your primary language. Sometimes when we speak to children, we want to use what has been termed kidspeak. Our way of bringing things down to a child’s level. Feeling if we use words like death or dead, we are traumatizing the child. If we are making things up or giving a fluff version like, “Nana went to the big garden in the sky.” We leave room for confusion. A child could feel like Nana would rather go to a big garden than be here with me? Use clear language and explain words if needed.
Honesty is the Best Policy
This goes along with using clear language. While using clear language be as honest as possible. If the person was sick say that. If there was an accident, say there was an accident. They may not be ready to digest every single detail but communicate from a place of honesty. Kids know and understand more these days than we give them credit for.
Open Book Policy
Let the child know that anytime they want to talk you are available. If you as the adult need to talk about the person, do it! If you avoid saying the person’s name or talking about them at all it gives the child the impression that it is not acceptable to do so. Talking about my mom is so therapeutic for me and I’ve let my children know it’s ok to tell a story or say they miss her.
I’ve created an infographic that can also be helpful. Check out the website www.childrengrieve.org. They have a great section with “Dear Me” letters. Adults write letters to their younger selves as they are going through the grieving process. There are some powerful words written there.
Remember the grieving process is different for everyone. I’d love to hear how you have helped any children in your life with their grieving process. Comment below!