Grief often isolates parents from their children. There is a false belief that children need to be protected and left in their innocence for as long as possible. Such an attitude can have devastating effects on the chidrens' development and the parent- child relationship. Talking and sharing grief and loss makes it normal, boosts the resilence of children and teaches them how to grieve by reaching outwards, instead of going inward into depression. There are many ways the communication can be built into the routine of daily life.
If the experience of grief is crushing and complex for adults, it is alarming and incomprehensible for children. When parents keep silent, children suffer a triple whammy. They suffer a bereavement, “loose” a parent who has opted out by grieving alone, and are bereft of tools to come to terms with their shattered world.
The core of children’s worlds are their parents. They are very sensitive and acutely tuned into the feelings and well being of their parents. They have to be, because their lives depend on it. “If mom and dad are well and happy then I am too,” is the foundation on which youngsters build their lives. Children need to be included in parental experiences of grief and loss so that their security blanket is not stolen from them without adequate preparation. If parents don’t communicate openly about their grief, children resort to imagination and fantasy which can often be more devastating than the reality, crippling their future emotional development.
How to share grief after a bereavement:
1. Show and talk about your feelings. Be honest about your moods. Let your child know that grief has not wiped you out. Cry openly but always let your child know why and that you will soon recover.
2. Construct a framework for understanding. Clarify matters for your children by leaving the door open for questions as and when they arise.
3. Include them in your task, rites and rituals. Allow your child to help out in practical ways. Allowing your child to become part of the process of comforting is the best way of demonstrating their importance to the family. Your child will then not have to jostle for a place in the hierarchy of your attention.
4. Relate memories: tell stories to one another about the lost family member. When eating out talk about what that departed one would have ordered, what DVD they would have chosen to rent. Recall the things that irritated you about the loved one. Avoid making the lost relative a paragon of virtue.
5. Make a story book. Draw, write and paste photographs in a story book involving you, your child and the deceased. Recall the typical phrases used by the departed, laugh about them, and add them to the repertoire of shared memories. Encourage your child to make up songs and poems about life with and without the lost family member.
6. Make family audio tapes of conversations with the lost relative as if writing to them. Make up new recipes with ingredients that the dead person favored. Have fun naming them in the memory of the departed. Sow seed of plants that the deceased would have liked which your child can tend.
7. Put on mini stage plays that include the departed in scenes. This is an excellent way for you and your child to tell your lost loved one things that were left unsaid, and to complete any unfinished business.
Benefits for you the parent
Ÿ Guilt free parenting
Ÿ Remaining tuned into your child’s needs
Ÿ Developing a closer relationship with your child
Ÿ Having a child that remains well adjusted, less prone to anxiety problems
Ÿ Weaving a strong and flexible bond with your child with your openness
Ÿ Creation of inter-generational links, uniting families lovingly
Ÿ Passing on the vital legacy of making grief healthy
Benefits for your children
Ÿ Reassurance that they are not forgotten or put aside
Ÿ Realization that they are not to blame for your sadness or distant mood
Ÿ Permission to ask questions and form a framework for understanding loss
Ÿ Learning that grief comes in different stages and forms
Ÿ Learning about the tools of expressing grief and the importance of doing so
Ÿ Relief that negative emotions are not shameful and can be tolerated by parents
Ÿ Opportunity to clarify the emotions, rites and rituals associated with grief and loss
Ÿ Learning how to let go without forgetting the loved one
Ÿ Acceptance of themselves when both good and bad memories of the departed one is normal
Ÿ Chance to rehearse how to get on with life, assimilating the memory of the lost relative.
Reprinted with permission. Copyright Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Jeanette Raymond is a licensed psychologist and psychotherapist. She has over 20 years experience working with children and families. She enables families to share their grief whether new or several generations old. She uses art, dreams and joint activities to make grief and loss a natural part of life and not to be feared. You can find out more at http://www.drjeanetteraymond.com