Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Loving A Grieving Child.
And it was easy for me to become consumed by such a loss. I could let it define me from here on out if I wasn't careful. I could cry and let the sadness sweep over my whole life- and for a season, this might be good. It might even be necessary. Sin brings death, and when that understanding of what our sin does really hits us, we should take that moment to dwell in it.
But when my dad died suddenly in March, what I didn't see coming- the part that devastated me beyond my own personal grief- was dealing with how such a loss had an effect on my children.
As I walked toward my babies, sitting quietly on a couch in the hospital waiting area, trying to form the sentences in my mind that would shake their family foundation to its core, I had no idea how they would respond. I went through the entire range of ideas. Would they weep? Would they understand? Would they not care as long as they could get some juice and gummies? To my surprise, after I struggled to form a child-friendly way to say, "Your grandpa died," they were just sort of quiet.
And they stayed quiet. For the next few days, as people came in and out of the hospital and my mom's house, as they brought food and condolences, my kids were just....quiet. They played and laughed and talked, of course, but about this subject, there was nothing. There weren't the usual questions about what was going on. They knew what had happened. They were just quiet about it.
Until we sat around as a family talking with my dad's pastor about stories of his life. My kids chimed in with their happy memories, and smiled along as we told some of ours. We all laughed and had a great time that night, odd as that sounds. But at the end of our happy, deep conversation about the man my dad was and the life he had led, I quickly asked that the pastor, as he read the eulogy the next morning, refer to Isaiah as "grandpa's little man" because that's what my dad always called him. And you guys, as soon as those words flippantly left my mouth, I saw my sweet 7 year old, who had quietly dealt with everything that had transpired over the last few days, grab the blanket my dad always used, throw it over his head so no one could see him, and loudly weep. And in complete solidarity with this child, every adult in the room joined in. There was sadness there, in that moment, that overtook us all, and I began to understand how the grief of my child would be very different than my own.
Over the next months, this proved to be true over and over again, so I thought I'd put together a list of things that have really helped us as I walk through grief with my children....and I really hope they can help you if ever you have to go through this with your own kids.
1. They are not adults. I know this is obvious, but it took me some time to understand. My 2, 5, and 8 year olds are not adults, and that means they will not deal with adult things the way adults do. They will deal with them like kids do. That means my expectations should be no more than that. I revert to anger, but my kids wet the bed. I cry in the car alone, but they have outbursts in public places. They are kids. Let them grieve like kids.
2. They don't always understand immediately. What took my 7 year old (at the time) a few days to process took my now 5 year old months. And Eva, my 2 year old, may never understand the weight of what happened that day and how much her life was changed by it. And that's all okay.
3. Let them see you grieve. This has proven to be true time and time again for us. I know my kids have feelings and emotions about their loss just like I do. And though I don't spend hours on end every day laying in bed crying (anymore...), I don't hide my sadness from them hoping I will shield them from pain. I let them know that what they're feeling is valid when I show them I sometimes feel the same way.
4. Don't project. This was only a real struggle for me a few times, but when it was, it really really was. When I told my kids that Grandpa was gone and there was no major response, I dealt with a real anger because I did not understand how they couldn't see the impact this would have or what they lost or something. I saw it. They should see it. Only they shouldn't have because they were 2, 4, and 7. My feelings are mine and their's belong to them. Projecting my feelings on them is never good for any of us.
5. Let them deal with their feelings in their own time. This has been the biggest shock to me, honestly. Things I think will set them off don't, like taking them to see the emotionally charged "kids" movie Inside Out, but then things I never think about, like them looking through a book I forgot my dad had given them, causes real emotional trauma and tears for hours. (Isaiah actually asked me to hide that book from him, which I did, and then recently asked to look at it again. I respectfully gave it back, and the quiet tears streamed as he read the book aloud to his sister. My heart just shattered, but it was helping his heal.) But just like adults, kids go through grief through stages in their own time. Trying to rush or hold off on those stages does no good for them or me.
6. Don't assume you can always shield them. This. This every day for four and a half months. Things happen that remind them. Just today, we had a major melt down reading Charlotte's Web, and that's okay. Though I want my kids to go through life without any pain or struggles, I understand that's impossible. My attempts to shield them has always been futile and fruitless. They will get hurt. And I will do everything in my power to comfort them through that pain because I love them, even through their difficult sadness.
I'm sure as we go through the next months and next years and next tragedies in life, I will grow and learn more about how to walk through grief with others, but these six things have really changed and helped shape how I view grief, and have really helped me love my grieving children better.