Helping Our Kids Through Loss
By Mimi McDavid, Published in the Boulder County Kids Magazine
Teach your children early on that loss and death is a natural part of life. All of us experience “little deaths” throughout life….divorce, death, changing jobs or schools. Remembering your own experiences will serve you well when supporting your kids through difficult times. Sometimes we want to protect our children from painful feelings or we are not sure what to say. Kids are resilient. A little coaching will help them through the ups and downs of loss and prepare them for the challenges they will face in life. When working with parents and teachers dealing with these issues I offer these guidelines of support for their children.
Be curious when you talk to your kids about a painful loss or transition. Use open ended questions and pick a time when there are no distractions. Let them lead the conversation and listen. A few simple questions can easily start these meaningful conversations: How are you feeling? How are you doing with all of this? Where were you when you heard the news?
Learn to listen. What does it mean to really listen? It means that all of your focus is on your child; no phones, no distractions. When you are in listening mode – be an empty vessel, open and curious to their interpretation of events. This is not a time to tell them about what you are feeling. Don’t try to “fix it” or your kids – just listen. Riding in the car can be a great time to have this conversation. Give them the gift of your attention – they will feel so empowered and important.
What to say to your kids? Kids will be curious when a major event has occurred and may have a lot of questions. Be as clear and as honest as possible. For younger children share the simple facts. It’s much better to say that Grandma died versus saying she is sleeping or passed away. An older child can understand a lot more information and detail but it’s important to empower them with facts appropriate to their age. If you leave too much to their imagination you might hear your kids make up some pretty interesting interpretations of their own.
Small Boy – “Where do animals go when they die?”
Small Girl – “All good animals go to heaven but the bad ones go to the Natural History Museum. “
E.H. Shepard, Punch 1929
Everyone grieves in their own way. Some kids may have a lot of tears or none at all. Others will return to their normal routines of play with friends and toys. Just like adults, kids can experience fear, sadness, relief, confusion or even anger. Everyone’s experience tends to be different. Check in with them periodically and see how they are doing. Give them a variety of activities that will help them explore and express their feelings. This is the key to healthy grieving: Expressing their lives and their loss in way that is meaningful to them. They can paint or draw a picture or keep a journal of how they are feeling. For others just talking about their loss over time will help them come to terms with these events.
Always let your children know they will survive these painful times. Remind them that you love them and that together you will move through these changes. These words, your words are so powerful for your children to hear. Take time to tell them what might seem obvious to you. It’s important to let them know they are not responsible for a death or divorce in anyway. Give them permission to ask questions and feel their feelings. Give them lots of hugs.
Over time your children will begin to understand that change and loss is a natural part of life. They will learn that grief is painful and temporary and that expressing loss is one of the surest ways to begin the process of healing. We all need an inner set of skills for when we are discouraged or frightened or feeling lost. Empower your kids with tools and skills. Include them as much as you can in the events of life as well as loss. There is no right or wrong way to grieve – inspire them to find their own way with your guidance. If you feel your children’s suffering or grief is prolonged you may need additional support. There are many services available throughout Boulder County. If the whole family is grieving or hurting – an outside support can be a gift to all of you.
Mimi McDavid had been teaching and coaching young people and families for 25 years. She has a tremendous ability to help people work through painful issues all families face: divorce, death, significant life transitions and other special needs. She serves as the founder and director of Wonders Inc. providing individual and family sessions and teaching classes to the community. Mimi established Kids Camp, one of the first camps of its kind for children grieving the loss of someone they love. She also penned the children’s book, Grief and Loss Take Us on a Journey. To learn more visit: wondersink.org. 720.988.7482. firstname.lastname@example.org
The Gift of Grief
Grief is unpredictable. She has no container or form to follow. She rises violently to the surface, has her way with you, and then rolls back out to sea again. You never know when she is going to overcome you. And, even once you think that you have released every drop, every tear squeezed from your body, she shows her ugly head and rages some more.
Her pain persistently pokes at your heart. Like a patient stream, she wears you down and makes you vulnerable, drunk with the nectar of numbness. Your pain screams at you to move, do something… but you stand there still, frozen in time.
To avoid her is to feed the flames of her wrath. To run faster, do more or become invisible is to give her more power. The only way that she will release her grip is to surrender to her mercy and let her move. She will move through you if you let her. She wants to be noticed. To be felt in your bones and pulsed through your blood. She breaks down barriers and draws the debris of lifetimes of sorrow with her as she courses on. With the tide, she rises and falls until you reach the peak of agony and at last, Let Go… This is her duty. This is why she has come.
In the moment that she flows out of you, all else seizes to exist. Convulsions of sorrow, every pain you have even known moves through your pores and returns to the source of everything. A moment of nothingness. A stillness that is not frozen but wildly alive and raw with primal vigor. Something is born in this instant, a freedom, a potential, and another grief is born with it; your innocence is gone and you will never be the same, but Grief has a gift to leave behind.
Call it peace…stillness…a oneness with life …everything becomes clear in this instant as if you had known it all along. Not a word or a thought, but a feeling that embodies the whispers of your Soul. As if waking up from a long slumber, suddenly you see. Your life fits together, and even if just for a blink, you are separate from the Story of your pain and filled with every wisdom that is birthed out of suffering.
She will have her way with you, until she is done. She will move through you if you let her. She is your Teacher…
and the Executioner of Ignorance.
She is the Transformer of the Spirit and the Usher of Change.
There is no force in the universe like her… She demands complete Trust… Surrender … and if you let her, she will make you better than you ever thought you could be. Authentic – full of heart… you see yourself now…. Fully awake… life comes clearer into focus. Simple pleasures breathed in like the music of your daughter’s voice – something bubbles up from the shadows. Love takes over, everything expands … You are…
Filled with love…
And happy to be Alive.
~ Wendy Black Stern