Children’s Grief Awareness Day

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.

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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.

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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.”

Next.

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.

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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.

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All Grief Is Unique: Same Person, Different Relationship

I think it’s almost always offensive when someone says, “I know just how you feel” to a grieving heart.

Even two biological parents of the same child have a slightly different relationship with him or her because their experience is filtered through the lens of distinct personalities, shared adventures, struggles, joys and secrets.

We are a family of six-four kids and two parents.

Each one of us has experienced Dominic’s death differently because he was uniquely woven into the fabric of our separate stories as well as our corporate story.

Parts of me reflected back from him are gone forever. The unique give and take we shared is my loss alone.

Sibling memories, inside jokes, sneaky “don’t tell mom” pranks and antics belong to his sister and brothers and are part of their loss I can neither understand nor access.

Yes, we share corporately the loss of a son and brother, but none of us can really say, “I know just how you feel”.

Because we don’t.

And that’s one of the things that makes grief a very lonely journey.

All these feelings wrapped inside of experiences bound up in memories stored in two hearts. Only now one of them is inaccessible and the other is trying to find a way to carry both halves of the relationship.

Part of the work grief requires is gathering up the fragments of memory and tucking them safely away.

It will be different for each heart.

Even hearts that mourn the loss of the same person.

Bereaved Parents Month: Self-Care For Families

Child loss is also often sibling loss.  

In addition to their own heartache, bereaved parents carry the heartache of their surviving children.  

The family everyone once knew is now a family no one recognizes.  Hurting hearts huddle together-or run and hide-and it is so, so hard to find a way to talk about that pain. 

Read the rest here:  Grief is a Family Affair

Crossroads: Celebrations After Child Loss

I want to be everything my living children need me to be.  

I try hard to celebrate them, be available, listen closely and love them well.  

I never, ever want them to feel they are competing with their missing brother for my affection or my attention.  

But I’d be lying if I said it was always easy.  

Sometimes the happy moment so closely resembles a shared memory that includes Dominic, my heart takes my head in directions I wish it wouldn’t go.  Sometimes it’s a long awaited once-in-a-lifetime occasion and Dom’s absence is a giant, gaping hole everywhere I look.

It’s really hard to be stuck at the crossroad of being happy for a child still here while mourning and missing the child that’s gone.

brandon and fiona wedding her laughing not screenshotI’ve had to do that many, many times in the five years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and I’ve found a couple of things that help.  

I put something in my pocket or wear a piece of jewelry that is a token of my love for Dominic. 

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It helps me feel as if he’s represented even if no one else knows about it.  Then I lean in and take hold of the celebration as best as I can. When I feel overwhelmed, I touch my little token and/or escape to a quiet corner or bathroom for a minute or two and collect myself.

I also try to do something called “pre-grieving”. 

coffee and journal morning

I allow myself time early in the morning of an event to be alone and cry if I need to.  If the tears won’t come, I listen to music that helps my heart reach that place of release.  I journal my feelings.  I walk through the day and admit where it might be especially challenging.  I think through how I can deal with that and make a plan.

It makes a difference.  

So much has been stolen from my surviving children. 

I don’t want them robbed of their mama too.  

beach-and-family-better

 

Grief is a Family Affair

Child loss is also often sibling loss.  

In addition to their own heartache, bereaved parents carry the heartache of their surviving children.  

The family everyone once knew is now a family no one recognizes.  Hurting hearts huddle together-or run and hide-and it is so, so hard to find a way to talk about that pain. 

There is definitely a time and place for professional counseling.  Many, many families benefit from having a trained individual, outside the immediate grief circle, guide them in exploring feelings, developing coping strategies and learning to live life this side of loss.

But there is also something to be said for arranging casual open-ended activities with surviving siblings, parents and even grandparents where space and a more relaxed atmosphere often leads to honest sharing.

This graphic has lots of excellent suggestions for how to craft such a space.

Not all will be suitable for every family, but every family should be able to find a few that fit.

I’ll add these guidelines that may help your family make the best choice for YOU:

  • Don’t force it.  If you make an offer of an activity and it drops with a thud to the ground, let it go.  You might be able to do it another time.
  • Don’t make it (what my kids like to say!) a “mandatory option”.  There must be no guilt or coercion invading this space.  If one or more of your family members consistently refuse to join in, consider asking a close family friend to take that individual out alone and see what might be going on.
  • If you choose a movie or other story-themed activity, LOOK UP THE PLOT!  I can’t tell you how many times we were sideswiped by a death scene or some other heavy emotional plot twist.  There may be a time when your family is prepared to experience those things together (we can now) but it may not be yet.
  • Mix and match more structured activities with open-ended ones like walks outside, watching the sunset, sitting on the beach, hanging at the pool, playing a game (not too competitive-that will sometimes bring out hidden anger).
  • If you have a family with a broad range of ages you might have to do some things with the littles and some with the older kids.  You can always add one or two activities a month or quarter where everyone (or as many as are available) gets together.
  • If your children, spouse, parent or other close griever begins to talk-let them.  If tears flow-that’s progress!  If ugly feelings are expressed, listen.  Try not to be defensive.  Try to hear the hurt behind the words.  It’s OK to set ground rules like using “I” statements and not blaming.  But don’t shut them out or shut them down.  

These are just ideas.  

Google is your friend and your phone is probably already in your hand or pocket-use it.

Find things that fit YOUR family. 

The only way through is through.  

You have to feel and deal to heal. 

selfcare for families

I Don’t Have to Choose Between Sorrow and Celebration

Our family is looking forward to Spring and also dreading it.  

This year we will welcome a new baby (my first grandchild) and also celebrate my daughter’s wedding to a wonderful man. 

Our family is growing again!

brandon and fiona engagement

But we will also mark the fifth year anniversary of Dominic leaving for Heaven and another birthday that he won’t be here to greet.

dom on mountaintop

I’m pretty sure tears will be shed on each of these days and they will be salty-sweet, sad and happy, sorrowful and celebratory-all at once.  

There are no more hard lines in my life that separate events into distinct categories where only a single set of emotions is appropriate.  Instead my heart’s a watercolor mosaic where one feeling washes into another, darker colors make the lighter ones brighter.

My daughter recently wrote her own blog post, Guest Books & Memory Tables: A Sibling’s Perspective on Love and Loss.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Even Hobby Lobby reminds me that if I’m remembering anyone at my wedding it should be the family legends of generations past, not current. Somewhere in my carefully- packed boxes of wedding decorations, sits frames and mementos for mine and my fiance’s grandparents and my forever-frozen-in-time 23 year old brother.

I highly recommend you read the whole thing.  She’s done a beautiful job sharing from a sibling’s perspective.

Her wedding day will be full of great joy and celebration and also some sorrow as we take pictures of the whole family minus one.

 

you should be here

I might be laughing one minute and crying the next.  

And that’s OK.  

No need to fake it.  

It’s ALL part of life. 

sorrow and celebration can coexist authentically

Repost: Grief and Family

One of the things I absolutely LOVED about having four kids was the way they pinged off one another.  There were evenings when the comments were flying so fast I could barely keep up.  Sly looks, secret texts, funny faces and friendly punches made up most of our times together.

That’s how families are-each person is just a little “more” when surrounded by folks that love and understand him or her.  

When Dominic left us, we didn’t only lose HIS companionship, we also lost the part of each of us that was reflected back from him.

Read the rest here:  Grief and Family