W/Kids Series: Grieving with Kids

This Mother’s Day was the hardest one I’ve experienced yet.  There was the usual screaming, tantrums. And then there was vomit from each of my three little beings.  But truthfully, what made it heavy and horrible was that just this weekend, I found out that a couple in my church experienced the death of their baby in the womb at 38 weeks.  38 weeks???  I don’t understand and my heart is heavy.  

Today’s post is not a post of answers by any means.  Instead, today’s post is in honor of those who have lost beloved children, friends, parents, grandparents, and spouses while still having to care for the rest of their family.   If you’ve experienced a loss yet you still have to hold down the fort, I’m giving you a hug so that you know you are not alone.  One of the benefits in working in hospice care is that I get to be around some amazing bereavement counselors who have walked with me through my own losses and taught me a lot about grief.   Grief is hard. And then there’s children.  May today’s post give you some insight on grieving with kids and help you as you walk this journey to healing:

It’s normal to feel torn.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges I’ve found in losing someone is that when you feel like falling apart, you have to keep it together.  Food still needs to be on the table.  Baths still need to be given. Diapers definitely still need to be changed.  And little children still want you to read every word of that long Bernstein Bears book.  I’d see something that reminded me of my dad, but before my heart or mind could do some healthy wailing, someone would yell, “Mommeeee, I need to go to the bathroom!” and just like that, I’d snap out of it.   The responsibilities of parentings often cause you suppress your grief, which desperately needs some time and attention.

Should you be happy or sad?

When my dad struggled with eating, I was starting to feed my 2nd baby his first solids.  When diapers were something to be considered for my grandma, my son was just about ready to get rid of them.  Watching my parent/grandparent decline while also trying to cheer on my babies as they achieved milestone was an internal conflict that was both heavy and real.  Have you ever felt that way?

It’s easy to feel alone.

People are often “with you” emotionally at the funeral.  But the heaviness of grief often comes the days, months, or maybe even years after a death.  The rest of the world gets on with life fine and dandy so it can feel like everyone else has forgotten.  At the nonprofit hospice where I work, our bereavement team sends mailings and checks up on caregivers who have lost a loved one and they follow them about a year after the death. One thing I loved about receiving these letters was that it made me feel like someone remembered.

Here’s another thought.  As a mom of little ones, carrying on a meaningful conversation with another adult is already a challenge. So imagine having such intense feelings (of sadness, anger, love, regret), but not having the chance or the right time or a safe space to share them  Talking and sharing with others about your grief is often a needed part of the grieving process.  With kids, however, there is barely any time (or energy) to reflect on your loss, let alone share your feelings with others.

Grief comes in the car. 

Life gets busy with pickups, drop-offs, lunches, homework, and other mommy jobs, and you can often forget that you even lost someone you love.  But then, for me, grief often comes in the car.  I don’t get much time to myself and so sometimes when I’m driving and all the kids have snoozed of, my grief catches up with me.  Life may be “okay” while you do the tedious task of parenting, but when it slows down and grief comes, take those moment to cry, to remember. And know that it’s okay.

Grief can affect you more than you think.

One thing that often surprises people about grief is that it can take many shapes and sizes (and it is all still very normal!)  Some people get sick more often. Some get more forgetful. Some get super angry.  Some have dreams of their loved ones.  Some question God.  Grief can cause physical, emotional, and spiritual responses, and is no figment of your imagination!  A loss changes schedules, experiences, holidays. And so you may very well start acting differently.  If you mess up more often, give yourself grace.  If you blow up at your kids more often, ask for forgiveness.  And find ways to be kind to yourself as you slowly take time to find your new “normal”.

Tears need not be hidden.

We can keep our kids at least partially in the loop when the tears come.   During the times following the death of my grandma and my dad, there were surely days of tears.  Friends are not always nearby when you’re washing dishes, but I believe our children are God given for all sorts of reason, including to get us a tissue or to give a snuggle and a hug when the moments get rough.  At the ages of 5 and 3, my kids have gone through two losses already and as I grieve, they often walk very appropriately aside me, quite aware that life is different.   When I share my tears, they unabashedly ask, “Do you miss your dad?”  And for me, it’s nice to have someone remember.

Involve your kids in remembering.

I know many people question how much they should talk to their children about the death of a loved one.  If we talk about birth though, I find it just as appropriate to talk about death.  Isn’t a normal part of life?  And isn’t grief, also such a normal reaction?  With each loss I have experienced, it helps me to involve my children in remembering.  On the first anniversary of my dad’s death, all the kids went out to pick dandelions to surround my dad’s gravestone.  To this day, when they see a bright yellow dandelion, they pick them like fresh flowers and will bring them to me.  It warms my heart and makes me remember.

“Did you know that when Goong Goong (my dad) was sick, he had a hard time breathing, but he still wanted to read to you Playground Problem? He loved you so much.”  I love to remind my kids about Dad, my grandma and my grandpa. Because in sharing with them, it helps me in my healing.

Share your thoughts below on how you have remembered your loved one and worked through your grief while caring for children.  And check out last week’s post on “Blogging with Kids” if you haven’t already.