This week our family suffered a difficult loss. Chris’ aunt met her Savior and left those of us who loved her grieving her absence. His aunt was incredibly influential in his life and a huge bright spot for our whole family. She was more like a grandma to our boys than a great aunt and we all had a special relationship with her. We are all feeling her absence and grieving the loss of seeing her again on this earth.
At some point in our children’s lives, they will experience the loss of a loved one – perhaps a number of times. These times can be hard for them to know what to do with their feelings, and can be difficult times for us to support our children because we are likely grieving as well. One of the best ways to help them navigate their grief is by being transparent about our own without making them feel responsible to fix our feelings.
Grief is hard to understand, even for adults. Tell your child it is ok to feel sad or mad and to cry. Let them know their feelings are likely to come in waves where things feel fine and all of a sudden they feel like crying or get angry. It’s ok to cry in front of them; it helps them know you are grieving too.
Remembering the good times is also important, even if thinking about those special moments brings tears. Talk about the special moments and memories of their loved one and/or put together an album of special pictures for them to look through. We did this last night and our son said, “I don’t want to think about Aunt Cheri, because it will make me cry.” We assured him that it is ok to cry and a normal part of missing someone, but we still want to remember the good times even if thinking about them comes with tears.
As a way to express themselves, have them write a letter or draw a picture to their loved one who passed so they can express their thoughts and feelings. This gives them a chance to share one more time, especially if they missed the chance to say goodbye.
If appropriate, let them know we don’t grieve “as those who have no hope” (1 Thes 4:13). If their loved one was a believer, let them know we will see them again some day in Heaven. We used this opportunity to share with our boys that now that Aunt Cheri is in Heaven, we have one more thing to look forward to at the end of our lives when we get to see her again.
Give them some grace. Your children are struggling and this can come out in lots of different ways. It could be struggling with distraction and a lack of paying attention. It could be angry outbursts. It could be a lack of motivation to do what they are asked or things they don’t want to do. All of these are normal reactions to the pain of losing someone they love. The more acutely they feel the loss, the bigger the reactions you may see. Let them know you love them despite their behavior and lower your expectations for a while.
While you’re at it, give yourself grace too. It’s ok to have comfort foods and easy meals. Last night we had macaroni and cheese for dinner, the previous night we ordered pizza, and the night before we had pancakes. These were not the most balanced meals, but the kids enjoyed them and I didn’t have the emotional energy to plan anything more complex.
Depending on the circumstances, you may find yourself extra busy helping with funeral arrangements and sorting through your loved one’s effects. Help your kiddos know what to expect, both with your extra busyness as well as helping them interpret your tears or grumpiness as you feel sad. The degree to which you can talk to your kids about these things will depend on their age, so adjust accordingly.
These are some of the things we are doing in our household. What else have you done to help your kids process grief?