I’ve been asked a few times by some friends to reach out to others who are in a similar position as me. A lot of them have young children and have no idea where to go or how to begin to help their children deal with the death of their parent. I am always willing to reach out and try to offer some support but mostly an understanding ear.
It is one event, like many others, that unless you have walked in that person’s shoes, you truly have no understanding of what they are going through. And just like with other events, everyone reacts and handles it in different ways. But I know it is comforting to talk with someone who just gets it. When I lost my husband I was fortunate to have the widow of one of his childhood friends to speak to about experiencing such a loss. She had become a widow a year and a half earlier and shortly after discovered she was pregnant with their first and only child. I have the chills as I type this because I remember her telling me how her late husband had told her he would never leave her alone. And a month later she discovered she was pregnant. We sat one afternoon and talked and I remember listening to her describe the things she had gone through especially the 1st year and telling me how the 2nd year is harder. She referred to us as being a part of this “club” that no one should ever have to be in. I hold that afternoon’s conversation very close to my heart. It was the first time someone completely understood what I was feeling. I knew that I would love to be able to do that for anyone else who was unfortunate to join this “club”.
When I have spoken to others I truly just listened to them. Everyone’s loss is different. Some, like one friend, his wife died of cancer. Then others, were like mine, the death was unexpected. My friend that lost his wife is left raising 3 girls close to my children’s ages. He said it best “No one gets it.” He, like all parents, was so worried about his girls. They were starting to react to the loss now that the shock had worn off. I just listened as he spoke of his girls and the struggles he faced from learning to do their hair for dance recitals to cooking. I wasn’t sure if I helped him but I know it helped me to know that I could be there even if it was to just listen. So what did I share? I just shared what I have and am continuing to learn through my own process.
The thing with children and grief is they are so resilient. They continue their daily lives, for the most part, normal. They grieve differently. They may not cry or they may cry all the time. They may talk about the parent they lost and want to know as much as they can about how they died. They may just keep it all in like my oldest has done for so long. But I think the one thing that is guaranteed to help them while they grieve is to just be there for them. Take the time to listen to them. Take the time to understand that they are individuals. Just because we are sad all the time or cry all the time, doesn’t mean they have to as well. But this is what is so hard for the parent left behind to understand. This is what makes us begin to worry and doubt ourselves…are we doing enough or are they OK.
It is, also, important to remember that each child is different. They may have lost the same parent but they will grieve in their own way too. Ella keeps it all in and will only share with me, in private and on her own terms, her feelings. She has only cried to me about her loss. For months she always referred to Ryan is the present tense. Hunter, on the other hand, is very open about his feelings. When he misses his daddy, he lets everyone know and cries. This is beginning to change now that he is older but by far he is more open with his grief. And Gracie, she just knows her daddy through us and dreams she has of him (this is a whole other AMAZING post I will share). But she talks about her daddy like she truly remembers him.
I do recommend Maria Shriver’s book What’s Heaven (Maria Shriver & Sandra Speidel). It beautifully explains what happens to a person when they die. It helps a child understand that our loved one’s spirit never truly dies. It is always with us. Whether you believe in Heaven or not, it truly helped me explain to my own children the very confusing concept of where their daddy went after he died. There are many resources out there at our finger tips to help children begin to heal. I simply searched on various sites for children’s books. I haven’t had to use some that I have purchased and I may never have to. But I wanted to educate myself.
If you know someone who is grieving, the BEST thing you can do is to lend an ear. Listen and let them talk about their loss. You may feel like you are not helping but you are helping more than you know.