Grief Brief # 16
As we begin a new grief message this month our focus will be on how children face losses and how they express their grief.
A number of people believe that babies and small children are unaware of a loss that occurs within a family. This is not totally true. Although they don’t understand the concept of death and the loss that ensues, they do sense that something is amiss. Their parents and others are sad , and perhaps weeping. They can easily respond to this with clinging and restless behavior.
As children enter the 2-6 year age ranges they can easily sense the absence of someone loved. They are no longer there within the family or at gatherings. They ask about the person or wait for them to be present once again. There are lots of questions that await answers on their part. They can be told that their special person had become tired, weakened, or ill and has died. They have left the family and friends for a place of rest, peace, and happiness. Children brought up in a Christian home are told that heaven in that special place. God is there, and other deceased family members are there . Their dear ones are all happy and well. It is helpful to reassure children that at some point, as their lives end, they too will be able to see and be with their special persons. This can be comforting to children.
It can be noted that parents who receive the many questions about loss and death may not be able to respond adequately to the questions asked by children. They may be heavily grieving. In which case, adult family members can offer to provide the requested information. The language needs to be simple and offered in the easiest manner possible so that responses to questions are understood. Linking sadness and others feelings of loss to the explanations being given will help children to more easily accept the feelings that they are experiencing. It might be noted that when children grieve, they do so in shorter time periods. They may ask their questions, express their sad feelings , and then be off to do a favorite activity. How different from the sustained periods of grieving that adults experience!
Adolescents, who are experiencing losses of family members or friends, react in a totally different manner. They grieve, but their grief expressions may be deeply internal or very overt. There can be enraged or have a sense of unfairness about the death, especially if it was traumatic, or perhaps marked by suicide. Grief Counselors in the school setting and anguished parents make every effort to reach out and provide comfort. Teens, however, readily turn to peers to express their feelings of loss.
The behavior of teens may express an acting out of their sense of dismay at loosing someone close to them. Behaviors may become reckless, explosive, or repressed by silence and a lack of communication. Adults can offer their presence, caring, and any signs of comfort at this difficult time. Group activities like candlelight vigils or memorial gatherings are helpful, as are offers of individual counseling by professional persons.
As can be seen, expressions of grief, related to losses experienced, will vary with the age groups of children. The support of caring adults, simple answers to questions, and the opportunity to express sad feelings in safe and sincere manners will always be helpful to children, as well as teens. Participating in memorial services and funerals will help to heal grieving hearts in significant ways. Having children participate in these rituals that mark the passage from life to death can bring healing to them, especially if they are prepared for the experience by loving and caring adults.