23 Jan 5 Ways I Emotionally Supported My Children While Dealing With The Death Of A Loved One
If you found this article because you have currently lost someone in your life, then first off I want to say I am sorry. The loss of a loved one can stir up the most intense of emotions, leaving you feeling lost and confused. I know there are many articles out there talking about the stages of grief, but I personally took little comfort in that fact that something said I was going to be mad and upset. I already knew this because I was already feeling it. What I rarely read, but now know to be true, is that you you jump around those stages, sometimes many many times. I stayed in anger for a very long while, and sometimes still find myself going back to that headspace. The reality is that there is no right or wrong when it comes to the ways we grieve, there is only what is right for us in that very moment.
After losing my mom two years ago, one of the most challenging things I encountered was how to navigate my healing process while raising two young girls. This is not a simple process. It is one of those big, messy, every changing meltdown processes that seems to never end. There is no one handbook I can point you to that is designed to help you deal with your unique emotions and situation. When you become a parent, the dynamics of grieving are so different. Not only are you going through the pain, and trying to give yourself the strength to move forward, but at the same moment you are also trying to comfort and deal with the individual needs of your children. This can be a difficult balance while trying to process what your heart does not understand.
What I can tell you, is that after two years of grieving, I have yet to find a perfect answer, but have found a few ways in which I involve my children in the process and use it as a way for us to all heal and grow together.
Disclaimer: This is all based on my personal experience and how I have managed to process loss while also including my children. My hope is that it can help guide you through what you are also going through
1. Show your children that all emotions are valid, and that adults have them too.
As I write this, I silently chuckle knowing how my mom personally stood on this subject. She was not an overly emotional woman, whereas I tend to cry over any commercial that involves puppies, small children, or elderly couples (if it contains all three, then I like to call that the emotional trifecta).
Emotions are something that previous generations had told us to conceal. I personally believe that this sends mixed signals to kids, and can sever the connections that we work so hard to build. When we lose someone close to us it is overwhelmingly emotional. Inevitably loss will show itself through you in one form or another. I am not saying that kids should witness the full meltdowns that can occur when we feel the intense pain of loss. However kids can sense when something is wrong. They know when we are hurting, and I feel as though we do not give them as much emotional credit as they deserve.
My kids have seen me cry, and I am not ashamed of that. I use these times as a learning lesson for them. This is a time to validate my own emotions, while helping them validate the times that they will experience pain. We are quick to understand joy and happiness in kids, and freely let them share in these emotions, however it is equally important for them to know that there is no shame in sadness. That they do not need to cry behind a closed door, and that as an adult we will be there connecting and sharing in their sadness, just as we have been there rejoicing in their joy.
2. Expect Questions To Come Up At The Most Unexpected Times
What I have found is that kids take time to process. Asking if they have questions in that moment is great, but there have been so many times when my oldest (5 now) has had no questions, but two weeks later has brought the topic up, peppering me with inquisitive questions that can catch me completely off guard.
Death is not a one time conversation with kids. This is where patience and understanding come in. Not just for your children, but for yourself as well. Yes it may not be the most comfortable conversation to have, but these are the times that your children will be looking for answers and guidance when they themselves are confused by the situation.
3. Do Not Dodge Your Children Questions
This ties in with number two, but the topic of death is confusing for a child, and avoiding the topic completely will just add another level of confusion onto an already difficult situation.
I once made the mistake of saying the overused euphemism, ‘she has gone to a better place’ when explaining my moms death to my girls. This was a big learning lesson when talking about death with children. They do not understand what that means. My daughter took it in the most literal terms, and wanted to go where grandma went. Wouldn’t we all? A better place? Maybe Disneyland, perhaps Hawaii? What I learned was to be to the point and honest with them, while also giving them time to process the information.
4. Keep Your Loved Ones In Memory By Constantly Telling Your Kids Stories
In the beginning this was hard for me to do. A loved one holds such a special spot in your heart that just the thoughts of them can bring you to tears (again this brings me back to the first point of having emotions if front of your children). But as the days, weeks, months, and even years went by, I now find bringing them up in stories kept their memory alive. My girls love hearing the stories, and I love telling them. It reminds me of how much of an impact she had on our lives, and as my girls grow, I continuously see her through them.
5. Find Ways to Memorialize your loved one
This one has been the biggest way for me to heal while including the kids. We choose to still celebrate my moms birthday every January 2nd in a way that heals us, as well as helps us feel deeply connected to her. This year marks the second year without her earth side so we are still figuring out what works best for us, but thus far we have done two different types of celebrations for her.
The first year we went to the top of a local mountain and did a balloon release. I have linked that experience here if you would like to read more on that. -Balloon Release- When we did this we wrote messages to my mom on the balloons before releasing them into the sky. Although I did love doing this one, and felt as though we were sending messages into the heavens for her, what I know now is the impact that this has on the environment and the wildlife around you. Although we feel like those will float forever, they do eventually come down.
After doing a bit of research into it, there are biodegradable balloons out there specifically designed for people who are doing a balloon release, so if that is something that you are interested in trying, I do urge you to just be cognizant of the environment around you.
This past year was our second year of celebration of life, and what we did the next go around was go back up to the same mountain and over the cliff release paper airplanes filled with notes, drawings, and messages to our loved, and lost ones. I loved this one. The kids had spent the morning drawing sunflowers and rainbows to grandma, and I was able to write a long list of all the amazing milestones our girls had gone through this year. This was also a beautiful day of healing, but I do have to say, a strong wind can make this one a little difficult.
Do What Is Best For You
I am going to be completely honest, some days still hurt, and somedays I will say the wrong thing. These are not suggestions that will make the pain go away, but rather a few ideas of how you can include you children into the healing process.
Over time I have found that this is what works best for me and my family. The reality is that everyone grieves differently and no matter how you choose to handle it remember to give yourself grace. Although you are now setting out to discover your ‘new normal’ you are not alone in this journey. My heart goes out to all of you who are currently reading this because you have gone through loss. I am sending you lots of love and healing as you go through this journey, and please just remember that it is okay not to be okay, but it is also okay to start living your life again.