Today is Children’s Grief Awareness Day.
I’m thankful a day is set aside to focus on children’s grief because it’s so easy for their grief to be overlooked, underrated and even dismissed.
Grown ups often tout the line, “Kids are resilient. They will adapt.“
And while it’s true that from the OUTSIDE it might look like a child is OK or even thriving, on the INSIDE she may be curled up into a ball or he may be angry and resentful.
Sometimes these feelings find unhealthy expression through addiction or risky behavior. Sometimes they simply grow into a giant overwhelming shadow that darkens the child’s whole world.
My own mother’s mama died suddenly from a stroke when she was only ten years old. Within days, Mama was whisked away from everyone and everything she knew to live with her oldest married sister.
No one understood then that children needed to grieve so Mama never really did.
At least not out loud where anyone could hear.
But that grief informed her entire life-it made her kinder to many people and made it harder for her to develop deep attachments to others. She was only able to talk about it in the last couple of years of her life when failing health, my own loss and many hours spent in hospital rooms together created safe spaces for her to share.
Children grieve whether we observe it or not.
Children need safe spaces to express that grief even when it hurts our hearts to hear the words or see the tears.
No child should have to wait until they are grown to acknowledge his pain or her brokenness.
Just like we parents, surviving siblings grieve what they’ve lost AND what will never be. Graduations, weddings, new babies, holidays, birthdays and other occasions mark their hearts too.
Children bear other burdens as well.
They are often targeted by those outside the grief circle for updates on the family while their own grief goes unnoticed. After five years, my kids have developed a standard answer to the question, “How’s your mom doing?”
“About as well as you’d expect.”
Sometimes children feel they must be extra good and extra quiet in an effort to make up for the sadness in a home after the death of a child. Sometimes they take on adult roles, shouldering responsibilities a depressed or grieving parent can’t manage right now. Sometimes they struggle with misplaced guilt when their hearts are jealous of all the attention focused on the missing child.
Often they just wish things were back to how they were before tragedy struck.
Your children may never tell you these things unless you ask.
And they may not confirm them even if you do.
But rest assured, they are grieving too.
Give them permission to do it out loud.