The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is to raise four kids while helping two of them deal with the loss of their father. Although we saw it coming, it was still not something they were prepared for mentally. And I was not prepared at all to help them deal with the raw emotions that grief brings. The people I loved most in the world had broken hearts and I couldn’t do anything to fix it this time. I felt helpless and didn’t know what to do.
I looked up ways to deal with it and read all about grief and its stages. I spent hours pouring over articles and requesting the advice of family and friends. At the end of the day, though, I just dealt with it as I went along and I’ve notated what seemed to work for me. Unfortunately, too many children have to grieve before they should.
Encourage children to talk about their memories and the good times that they had with the person in question. Also encourage them to talk about the bad memories. Encourage them to ask any questions they might have about the death and what led to it.
All memories are worth talking about. Talking and reliving those memories as a way to show them that keeping someone’s memory alive is one way of honoring them.
Validate any emotions that they may have whether it be anger, apathy, or sadness. Make sure that they know that there’s no shame in crying. It’s also important to let them know that there’s no one way to grieve and everyone does it differently. As for crying, it is better to let it out than to let it build up. It’s a release that needs to happen and it will happen one way or another.
Let them help
Just like adults, children often feel helpless in the face of so much emotion and grief and don’t know what to do. Seeing so many grown people crying is terrifying for them. If the person that has passed away was an immediate family member, let them be a part of the funeral planning as much as they can be. Or at a minimum, let them do their own memorial that they can bring to the funeral or service such as a memory board or garden memory stone. It makes them feel like they are giving out a final gift and saying goodbye.
Whatever they need
Some will become extra clingy and need more time with you. Others may become distant and withdrawn and need time to themselves in an isolated environment. Neither way is wrong. Encourage whichever way your child or loved one wants to grieve.
Talk about death and dying and their fears even if they don’t bring it up. Death is scary for anyone but especially terrifying for children. When they lose a parent, or anyone they’re close to, it really brings death close to home.
Your child may become obsessed with death and finding out what happens in the afterlife. Others might not want to talk about it at all but gain a sudden interest in religion.
No matter what your religion or your beliefs are, explain to them how faith helps people deal with death. I think that is the most beautiful thing about religion. It is a light in the darkness and makes it possible for you to have faith in something that you cannot see. To believe without knowing.
As with you and I, time is the best healer and it’s impossible to explain accurately that it will get better as each day goes by.
Just do the best you can each day and encourage them to do the same. Reach out to a professional if you feel at any time that your child is depressed or may need professional help. It’s especially important to teach them that there is no shame in asking for help when you need it.