“You can’t truly heal from a loss until you allow yourself to really feel the loss.”- Mandy Hale
As much as we'd like to protect our children from the tremendous grief associated with the death of a friend or loved one, they are occasionally forced to come face to face with profound loss at a young age. When an expected or unexpected death occurs within a community or family, adults can feel lost about how to support their children. Many families reach out to therapists' in order to gain guidance and support to assist their children as they walk through this profound and painful event, begging the question: How can we help our kids process death and bereavement?
Below are some suggestions to help us walk our children through this painful journey:
Hold Space For Grief- Holding Space means providing a container and allowing the space for whatever needs to come up. We are often uncomfortable with our own unprocessed and unresolved grief and inadvertently move away when other people are expressing theirs. This can be very unconscious, but incredibly common. Give them the time and space they need to experience and express these deep and challenging feelings. Be patient with this process. Everyone is different in how they process and how long the grieving takes.
Normalize the intense emotions they may be experiencing - The feelings of sadness and grief are some of the most intense physical and psychological experiences we can have. Normalizing the intensity and sitting with our children when necessary will allow their tolerance to grow and their understanding of this normal emotion to expand. Help them recognize the normalcy of the different feelings and sensations that can occur even minute to minute. Everyone grieves differently. Help them recognize this both in themselves and others.
Encourage Conversation- Encourage them to talk about there person who has died. - I often hear people say "I didn't bring it up because I didn't want to make them sad". When we are grieving, we are already feeling sad whether it's being talked about or not. Having people we love and trust tenderly explore and encourage our feelings helps us feel less alone.
Recognize Arising Fear- Our society operates in a manner where we work to avoid talking about death or feeling the fears associated with the death of a loved one. When that vail of denial is pierced, we are often left with a deep realization that other's we love can also die and leave us with this hole of grief.
Saying Goodbye- preparing our children for a funeral or memorial can lessen the anxiety and discomfort embarking on this new experience. In addition, creating their own personal private ceremony can help them say goodbye in an intimate and meaningful way.
Creating Personal Ritual-Some people like to have a place to go to, outside their daily routine or space, to sit with their grief. Some even create an alter for their loved one as they work with their grief.
Grief Counseling- when we have concerns that our children are not moving through the grief or getting caught in anxiety or depression, it's time to reach out for some professional guidance. Although grief is a normal, albeit a painful process, there is typically a beginning, middle and soft ending for the more acute process. A therapist can help assess where your child is to determine if more support is needed.
The amount of time and space it takes for someone to move through grief varies greatly and the journey can be unpredictable. Allowing for the process to unfold in a safe and honoring manner will create the safety and support your child needs to learn how to grieve. This skill is necessary on this life's journey as it's a place we all visit repeatedly. If we can learn the landscape and find comfort in some familiar landmarks, it allows us to walk the journey with some sense of confidence and comfort.