When you have children you want to protect them. Protect them from harm and any pain. We can’t help but want to make everything okay. The hurt to us as adults is almost unbearable when there are things that we cannot protect them from. Things that you cannot change.
The third Thursday of November marks Children’s Grief Awareness Day, a day to recognize their loss and to help everyone understand how we can better support a grieving child.
Just like with adults, when a child is grieving they need to experience all of their emotions including those of intense pain. And you can’t make it better with a hug or a cookie, nor can you hide the truth from them. One of the most important things with kids is to tell them the truth and to do so in language they can understand. Death is a huge concept and the finality of it is difficult for young children to fully comprehend. They may not yet have the words for their sadness or anger. Depending on their age it may take several years before they truly do comprehend and are able to fully express their feelings.
For a family who has experienced a life-altering injury the loss to the child is just as significant and impacts their life just as much. It can be even more complicated as their loved one is still alive however so changed. Sometimes children have to take on more grown up roles to help out. It changes the balance.
Fortunately children are amazingly resilient. They have a remarkable ability to be in the moment and just play. Sometimes the adults around them may not notice that the child is deep in grief. Their resilience doesn’t mean that they are not experiencing intense emotions and need to express them and often they may act out in a different setting from home. It may be at school or daycare or with friends that they show different behaviours. It is important to communicate regularly and openly with teachers and caregivers.
Every age group is different and each child is unique. Fortunately, most schools and communities have programs and resources available for families. There are excellent resources to be found online as well.
My girls were only 3 and 5 when our lives were forever changed. I still remember being so fearful of how to tell them and what to say. Holding my two young girls tightly in my arms as I had to say that their Daddy was not coming home. That he was dead.
Ten years have passed and I still worry about them. I don’t honestly believe that will ever change. We have always kept him in the conversation, his favourite meals and books, funny stories and the ways they are like him. I am grateful that over time the stories have become easier to share and memories of things have come back to me that I had forgotten during my time of intense loss. Our girls are strong individuals who know more stories about their dad than actual memories of their own. They do know how much he loved them and how proud he would be of them.
Every year, the third Thursday in November is internationally designated as Children’s Grief Awareness Day. Next year, show your support by wearing blue and by helping to create greater awareness and better understanding. And every day, if you have children in your life who are grieving, give them that extra hug, give your time to listen so they can really express themselves, and answer their questions with honesty. Give them your heart. They deserve it.