Adults and children process grief differently, as Janine Dunlop discovers.
There were two deaths in our family in nine months. I thought I would have to help my children through their grief, but in truth, they seem to know more about how to grieve than I do. Here’s what I’ve learned recently from them about how to grieve family members.
Talk about your loved ones
It was Kid2 who taught me this one. After the second death, I went numb. I couldn’t cry and I certainly had little desire to talk about how I was feeling. Not Kid2. She would drop her loved ones into conversation just as easily as if she had seen them yesterday. She would chat about what “grampa” didn’t like, or how funny Aunty Bee was on a particular day. And it helped. Talking about those you’ve lost seems to normalise death. Even though our loved ones are gone, they existed. They were a big part of our lives. We can still talk about them and remember them for who they were.
Commemorate them in special ways
My children have kept trinkets from each loved one who died. They’ve put photographs of them up on a pin-board. On special days, like Christmas or Easter, they make sure that our loved ones are included in the celebration, either by asking me to include a tradition that was started by grampa or Aunty Bee, or just by remembering out loud what fun it was to have them around on those days.
Get outside help
We all know counselling is a sensible option when we’re trying to cope with loss. I sent all three children to their school counsellors when their aunt was terminally ill. I knew that they needed to work through their emotions with someone and, although I was trying, I recognised the need for some outside help.
When their aunt died, Kid1 took himself off to the counsellor. I was astounded when the school contacted me to tell me this. He was barely a teenager, and yet he knew he needed emotional support to get through a difficult time. He recognised the need for outside help.
This one seems like a no-brainer and yet… I was chatting to the counsellor I’m seeing at the moment about how I’ve been unable to cry since the second loss. When she asked me why I thought that was, I said it was because I was afraid that if I started, I just wouldn’t be able to stop. During our conversation, I remembered Kid2, who cries sometimes when she misses her grampa or her aunt. She cries at dinner, she cries in the car. Just for a few seconds, she remembers that person and cries for them. And then she’s fine. “See?” said my counsellor. “You can cry for your loved ones and you won’t fall apart. Just ask your daughter.”
Give and take
So much of parenting is about teaching our children how to navigate their way through life. What I’ve learned lately, though, is that sometimes, if we’re willing to notice, our children can teach us valuable lessons too.
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Have you ever had a loss in your family? How did you cope?