Helping Children Grieve

There was a tragic loss in our faith community this week. Three children were left to continue living on this earth while one of their parents is now in Heaven. It’s glorious to reflect that this person is now in the presence of Jesus. At the same time it is utterly heartbreaking to think about what these children must be feeling and what they will go through over the next days, weeks, months, and years.

I know this heartbreak. I’ve lived it and watched it unfold over the last ten months. Last November my children suddenly and unexpectedly lost their father. Thinking of the moments as we found out…heart rending. Horrific. Nothing I ever wish for any child. Ever.

The first days were surreal. Every month we still remember. Milestone days were difficult. Christmas. His birthday. The kid’s birthdays. They are learning to find a new normal. Without dad.

I thought I would share some things that have helped us. We’re still learning. This isn’t one of those things you really prepare for. And you never know when someone else may face this or need your helping hands.

  • Find a safe, neutral space where you can just exist. The first few days are really overwhelming. Get out of the house and go somewhere that you can just be. After leaving the funeral home the day he passed, we went to my grandma’s house. It was nice to get hugs. And to know we could cry or laugh, then cry some more. We could just sit. Then get a cookie. And more love.
  • If you say you’re going to visit, do it. Many people want to visit, but they’re afraid to impose. We needed people. It helped to talk and process what had happened.   It was also a good way to share the good memories. I had a few people who said they would visit and I desperately needed it. Then they didn’t show. I was left with my thoughts, and feeling a sense of loss again. So just follow through.
  • Let the kids set the pace as to when they return to school. My kids wanted to see their friends. Then my son was overwhelmed. I gave him permission to go to the office for a break. Or to call and tell me he was done and needed to come home. The first two days he needed to come home in the middle of the day. It was too much. And that was okay.
  • Allow the kids to talk about all of it. Ask for memories. Even now my kids will say, “Oh! Dad would have thought that was funny!” So I ask more questions. I let them talk. Their faces light up. Sometimes the smiles bring tears. So I hold them. And let them talk more.
  • Encourage a journal or art project. My daughter has written letters to her dad. She’s written what she’s feeling, sometimes when it’s too hard to say out loud. She also likes to draw. It’s great to give kids multiple outlets to express what they’re feeling.
  • Celebrate the milestones. For his birthday, we went to dinner. They always liked to go to chinese food when they were with him. So that’s what we did. And we got a cake, because the kids wanted one for him. We laughed. We cried. They blew out the candles and cut him a slice of cake. It’s what they needed that day.

Those are just a few ideas. Not to say we’ve done it perfectly. Or even well. There have been hard days. Harsh words. Hurt feelings. There have also been glimpses of joy. Finding the happy memories. Remembering the good things that still live on in each of his kids.

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