Written by Clara Hinton
Rituals are an important part of everyone’s life regardless of age. Following the death of a child in a family, it is extremely important for parents to help the remaining children to work through their feelings of grief. One way of doing this is by creating rituals that will help a broken family come together and feel whole again.
Young children through early teen years need something visible and hands-on to help them work through feelings of sadness, fear, anger, and other associated grief emotions. One ritual that has been found to be very healing is carried out with a clay pot.
Purchase a clay pot at your local discount store. Gather your family together and introduce this as a time your family has set aside to be together so that you can resolve some of the problems of grief that have occurred since their brother or sister has died. NOTE: Please remember not to use the phrase “since your brother or sister went to sleep to be with God.” Children will often associate sleep with death, and falling asleep can become quite frightening to a child for fear he will also die “in his sleep.”
Sit around a table and place the clay pot on some newspaper. Break the pot, making sure it falls into rather large pieces. (You don’t want to smash the pot creating hundreds of small, brittle pieces!) Have the children write with a marker on the broken pieces problems associated with their grief. Maybe such things as fighting in school, misbehaving in church, or talking angry to parents will be among some of the problems listed.
Keep these problem pieces of the pot in a special box, and as each problem is worked through and resolved, have the child glue that piece of the pot in place.
Eventually, by working together as a family, the broken pot will be glued together. At this point, the pot should be displayed somewhere in a prominent place in your home to serve as a visible reminder of how the family worked together to resolve grief issues following loss.
Even though children don’t often call their sadness, anger, or anxiety “grief”, those feelings are still very real to a child when a sibling dies. It is extremely important for children to be able to work with their hands to actually “see” a finished product that looks whole. In this case, the broken pot is able to be put back together, just as a family can be put together again following the loss of a child.
Rituals are a very healing part of our grief work. Sometimes we exclude children in the entire grief process somehow thinking that children do not have important questions or fears. That is an understatement, to be sure. Children often hurt as much as parents, but they have no idea how or where to get the help needed to work through this thing we call grief. By using something as simple as a clay pot ritual, we can help children understand that grief can temporarily break a person’s heart and cause great pain. But, by working through the grief, a child is able to see that healing does take place. This is an all-important step forward for a child in this journey we call grief.