Last time I spoke of the emotions that are built up because of things that are said or not said and the wish that things could have been different, better or more. I also noted that these things need to be resolved or completed. Today I will discuss ways that can be accomplished.
First of all, it is important to remember that relationships are personal and different with everyone. Even if you have experienced grief in the past, it will be different and unique for each person that passes, as well as different and unique for each child or person that experiences the same loss. It is important to be a leader in completing the relationship without forcing personal ideas or parts of your relationship on those you are trying to help. In the following steps you need to remain neutral, and the child must feel safe to openly express their true feelings.
A natural consequence of a relationship ending, whether through death or other means, is reviewing the relationship by looking at the “good times,” or the hardships, things we regret, or hopes that will never be. It is good to review and talk about our relationships. In this review as a parent you are trying to help the child identify their true emotions--they can be a full spectrum of emotions such as sadness, anger, joy, or amusement. The child should be able to talk freely. Your child may need some coaching. The book, When Children Grieve, gives a check list of areas that may elicit emotion in the child (see pages 139-142). Some of these things may apply and some may not. It talks about being careful not to make an issue where there is not an issue. The emotion the child has may be positive or negative. It is important that the child can express the emotion without feeling like he/she will be judged for the emotions.
The check list can be used as a guide to help the child recognize emotions, and also to find areas that are left incomplete--emotions that need to be resolved. The best way is to start the child talking by introducing the topic. For example, if a grandmother had passed away, you can express some of your memories like baking cookies with grandma and how you miss her, and that sometimes you still feel sad because you cannot make cookies with her anymore. Then continue with a question like, “How do you feel about that?” This way you are inviting your child to talk and have shown him/her that it is okay to express feelings of sadness. Your child may or may not open up, but you have given the child an opportunity to express feelings.
The check list includes:
Meeting or first awareness
How are you related
Special names for this person ie. Nana
Took care of the child or stayed at their home
Punishing or easy going
Gifts, lack of gifts and/or better gifts to siblings or others
Trips to their house
Visits to the children’s home
Smells associated with the person
Fights with Mom or Dad
Very safe and easy to be with or talk to
Pinches cheek too hard, teases, embarrasses
There is a lot more in the list for if they lived close by, or if they lived far away, if they had a long term illness, what it like was near the end, how the child found out about the death, and event and anniversaries that happen after the death.
This is just the start. I will describe what to do next after you have reviewed the relationship in my next blog.
Sorry about the long break. I was working on some personal goals that took my time. I am excited to continue talking about the book When Children Grieve. The principles I have talked about in the past have been equally important for adults as well as children. The discussion will move more in the direction of helping children, but some principles still can be applied to both.
One issue the book brings out is that every day we say and do things or do not say and do things we wish we could change. We wish to make the communication different, better or more. Think about it for a minute. Is there something we wished we would have said to a child, friend, spouse or thought we could tell them later? Was there something said at a time of frustration, when tired or joking that we wish had not said?
What feelings do these miscommunications leave us with? How can these feelings be resolved? Most of the time it is easy to say, “I’m sorry”, or, “Hey, I meant to tell you.” When someone dies, we do not have the opportunity to resolve our communications. We are left with the unsaid message or the incorrect message, and our hearts want to resolve it.
When a child passes away, we also have all of the unresolved hopes and dreams our heart has created to share with that child. We placed energy into the relationship. We can do this with other relationships too. If we had a rocky relationship with someone we wanted to love and feel love from them, the hope that someday we will be reconciled is left unfulfilled when they pass away. This is a cause of sadness and pain.
I said energy because any time we spend thinking or doing things for and with others, we are using energy. Energy can be positive or negative. Negative energy is more consuming and destructive. If we cannot find a way to resolve communications, they will be negative energy sources in our lives. So if we cannot directly resolve our communication with our loved ones who have passed away, where do we find a safe place to resolve them?
This is where as a parent or guardian of a child it is important to create a safe place for them to communicate their feelings. Their feelings need to be heard and acknowledged. The age of the child will determine the appropriate way of communication. Obviously an infant’s communication of sadness or discomfort is to cry. As the child is older and develops communication skills, talking about the situation will help.
It is a natural process for children to transition from crying to communicating with words. I remember listening to my sister-in-law with her young child saying to him, “I need you to use your words so I know how to help you.” There are ways to help children use their words, and express their feelings, and each child will be different.
I remember that I had an unresolved issue from my childhood. I had buried it deep, and I felt like it did not bother me at this time. Something happened that brought the issue back, and it had come up before, but I was able to keep burying it. This time, however, I chose to look at it for what it was. I was talking to my brother and explained what had happened and told him how I felt. He simply listened and expressed his sympathy and recognized it must have been hard for me. I felt a release, a lift. I knew that I had finally let it go.
I will continue to discuss other methods and helps for resolving children’s grief.
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