I have spent the past 2 weeks in constant, foggy motion. The Bald Genius was in the middle of a random desert for a military assignment, and I had to hunt him down to tell him the most unexpected news: his dad, Superkiddo’s favorite confidant, and my father-in-law, had been found deceased by emergency personnel. There are many gory details to go with that news, ones which I will continue to try not to remember or repeatedly replay, but the end results remain the same: he is gone. Amid the ceremonial and obligatory activities, our family has to face the reality of life without someone. This can be challenging for adults, but just imagine how daunting this is for a child.
Superkiddo was 2 hours old when he was first introduced to his grandfather, and the two were instantly inseparable buddies. They’ve spent afternoons on walks, be-bopped to jazz, built far too many knick knacks and art projects, shared private jokes, watched old movies, and talked to each other every day after school. This was the norm for my child, and suddenly, without warning, it became his past. Breaking this news to him could have been unbearable, but we were blessed with a community of loving, prayerful, supportive people who walked us through this. There will be many emotional moments and questions to come, and we hope to navigate them as well as possible. The following items have helped us to support him so far:
5 Tools to Help Your Child Navigate Grief
1. Honesty. There is nothing worse than learning that the adults you trust were actually not trustworthy. You do not have to give an abundance of details, but you can give age appropriate answers, so that your child can begin to process what has happened. If they ask a question, they deserve an answer.
2. Freedom. All adults react differently, so it makes sense to accept that all children will not grieve the same way, or on the same timeline. Give your child the room, support, and freedom to express their many emotions, and make them feel safe, and loved as they do so.
3. Faith. If you aren’t a person of faith, I have no idea how you would approach this, or any situation. That isn’t meant to disrespect your household; I simply can’t fathom the attempt at life without the reliance upon a power that is greater than my own. My family expressed what our faith teaches about loss, the promise of healing, and the hope of eternity. You can incorporate the hope of your beliefs into the process of your child’s grieving.
4. Celebrate the Memories. If your child received a special toy, or item from the departed loved one, it may serve as a comforting reminder of the love they shared. Pictures, and other keepsakes are great ways to remember the happier moments of a relationship, and give children tangible ways to connect with someone they miss.
5. Books and Journals. There are many incredible, helpful books on the market about grief. I highly recommend spending time with your pastors, school counselors, teachers, and other professionals to discover the best age appropriate, and situation specific books for your child. There are times when words fail, and your kids may not want to, or know how to express what they are feeling. Art journals can often save the day. Children of all ages can enjoy breaking out their art supplies, and working through their emotions.
I would never wish heartache upon any family; however, we all know that loss and death are factors in life’s equation. Whenever you are faced with the loss of a loved one, and must take time to face your own grief, please remember to consider the youngest members of your family. Work with professionals as needed, and utilize the above tools to support your child in navigating their feelings.