Tuesday, June 18, 2013

how to help your children through the loss of a loved one

how to help your children through the loss of a loved one

last july i lost my father to cancer
he was not just my father but a father in the truest form of the word
my protector
my advisor
my life investor
my moral compass
my champion

this loss came after a long journey of me having a front row seat, actually a seat alongside him, being present to his climbs and descents
life molding moments of witnessing the grace and strength he carried through his debilitating disease
sweet moments of being privy to wordless exchanges of love through the gazes of my parents
and heart wrenching times of body shaking sobs as i lay next to this man of great stature in his hospital bed stroking his soft salt and pepper hair
to summarize this experience seems nearly impossible
but i will tell you that i truthfully learned of an inner strength within me that i have never uncovered before in my life
strength i have managed to preserve and utilize as i have experienced difficult things within motherhood

but this article is not about my grief
it is about how we helped my children through theirs

we live next door to my parents
my children have experienced a real life fairytale relationship with their grandparents
late night jigsaw puzzles 
trips to frozen yogurt
lessons on back flips in the pool
backyard camping
magic shows
{to this day my children ask me about papa’s magic light}

loss is not something unique to our family
last night i received the news that a sweet friend of mine suddenly lost her father
and i knew that i wanted to finally publish this article
in hopes that through our experience i would be able to help her and anyone else who has suffered such loss
by sharing with you some suggestions on how to help your precious children through loss of a loved one whilst you are processing your own

Know what you believe and be ready for questions
In the midst of your own grief I am sure questions such as Why are we here on Earth? What happens after I die? Will I see my loved one again? have come into your mind.  They will come into the minds of your children as well.  Mostly likely accompanied by Will I die?  Will you die?  Creating moments of stillness to ponder these questions and their answers on your own, within the frame of your own belief system will be of great value to your own grieving process and will give you the confidence to answer the sincere inquiries of your children.  When the questions come try your best to stop what you are doing and create an environment that will allow for discussion.  Take your lead by their questions and try to explain your beliefs at their level of understanding, but do not be surprised when they ask deeper questions than you might have imagined.

Observe their own way of grieving
I shouldn’t have been amazed, but I was, when I observed how differently each of my children dealt with the loss of grandpa.  One was very open with his thoughtful questions and another silently kept to himself in quiet rooms with only quiet tears to reveal his grief.  It was up to me to attend to this silent griever, to hold him, and to see if he wanted to talk or not.  Listen to your heart to know which topics in question will bring them the comfort and security they need.

Rely on people you trust to help with their care
It will be a breath of fresh air and help to preserve the spontaneity of their life if you will allow others to take and care for your children for an afternoon or a day.  Those you will select to care for them will seek to fill their world with life and the glees of carefree childhood at a most difficult time.  Witnessing the service of others on behalf of my children created a tremendous impact on their hearts and mine.

create family time away

Create family time away 
Forge out time to go on a day trip or a vacation as an entire family.  Removing yourself from everyday obligations and realities can free yourself to just enjoy being together.  Do not place guilt upon yourself for trying to enjoy being a family without that person, especially if that person is a family member.  That was a difficult issue for me to trudge through.  We had to continue to emphasize that grandpa would want us to continue to be happy.  Laughter, silliness, and playing together can do wonders in healing the soul.

remember your loved one

Remember your loved one
Your children will want to preserve that relationship that they shared with that person.  They are so fearful of forgetting them.  They want to feel close to them.  Display photos of them together in their bedroom or family room.  Look through photos and watch home videos together.  Point out gifts or other special objects that connect your children to that person and remind them how much your child was loved by them.  Sing their loved one’s favorite song.  Write down their favorite stories of them together.  If you can, visit the gravesite together.  Some of the most touching experiences I have shared with my children have been at grandpa’s gravesite.   One of my dear friends, upon the loss of her father, had each child release a helium balloon into the sky making its way to heaven.  I plan on doing this at the year anniversary of my Daddy’s passing.

celebrate and continue traditions

Celebrate and continue traditions
My Daddy’s 58th birthday just passed and we chose to create a celebration just as he would have enjoyed, together as a family and with close friends: miniature golf, ping pong, the pool, thai food, and mint chocolate chip ice cream.  We filled it with activities he loved, family traditions, and of course his favorite foods.   It was a bittersweet celebration but the kids loved basking in grandpa’s loves.  As each holiday has passed, it has been difficult to continue on with our family’s favorite traditions without Daddy: pigs in a blanket pancakes, the Polar Express, Memorial Day Games- but it is essential for the children to feel that the best way to honor that person is to carry on with the things that brought them joy.

at times of grief it can be most challenging to lay aside our own grief to address the needs of our children
but in helping them to heal, you will find that you are healing as well
grieve together
hold them tight
look to their resilient spirit for inspiration
create an intention for this most difficult experience to become one of fostering unity and strength within your family unit
i can attest to this
it can be sweet amidst the oh so very bitter
my heart reaches out to you
you can do it
you can and will

would love to hear how you have helped your children through this difficult process.  what has brought the peace and comfort that you have needed as their parent? and how have you shared it with them?


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