When my mom passed away from cancer at the age of fourty-nine, our family entered into a season of vast darkness. My children were young, just eight, five, and not quite two and this loss hit us all like a sledgehammer.
I was caught in the eye of a storm—unable to hold myself together—but I had to also keep my children from falling apart. Nighttime proved to be the worst, and inevitably we would all end up a crying heap on the bed. I wondered during those months if we would ever see light again. Would we smile? Would we find joy in anything?
The kids had questions I couldn’t answer, and emotions they were unable to control or understand. All the while, I struggled to deal with my own grief. We went about our routine: school and work, church and holidays, but there was an aching within each of us that seemed impossible to fill. We were living as robots, and it began to take a toll on our family and our faith.
I realized that in my anger at the loss of my mom, I had begun to question the Father in heaven that now held her in His hands. I wondered how He could have taken her, how He could have caused such turmoil in our lives, how did He allow this to happen? We prayed, hundreds if not thousands also prayed along with us in faith, for her healing. It wouldn’t be until years later that I would see He did, in fact, heal her: He simply did it in heaven and not here on earth.
Eventually, as time passed, the aching was less obtrusive. It hurt of course, as it does today upon thinking of the loss, but the severity of grief isn’t quite as painful now. We think of Nana and smile, we laugh at the funny things she used to say, and we talk about what an amazing time she’s having in Heaven.
The truth is, God is a good, good father, and He has done a world of good in the midst of the hardest of seasons. He’s walked beside us, carried us, and brought us into a season of immense joy and the brightest of light. We no longer walk in the dark, instead, we tread in the beauty of knowing we will get to see her again some day.
Grief is a road difficult for anyone, with twists and turns that take your breath away. Grief for children is a winding path all it’s own. Kids aren’t always able to articulate what they’re feeling and have questions we as parents don’t even know how to answer. Losing someone you love leaves a gaping hole for people of all ages. Here are some tips for helping the children in your life, as they travel through the mountains of grief.
Be Prepared for Questions
There will be many questions about death, about life, about what’s happened to their loved one. If possible, be ready and prepared for how you will answer them and share these answers with other family members who might be in contact with your kids. Also, understand that you may not know all the answers, and be okay with that. Honesty is the best policy. Letting your children know that you aren’t sure of the answer is alright, too.
Offer an Alternative Way to Process
Sometimes words don’t come easy, especially to children. When my mom passed away, my boys were 5 and 8. My oldest and I had a journal, he would write a sentence or a question about Nana and I would respond. We did this for months. Sometimes he simply wrote, “I am so mad she is dead!”. This is okay and perfectly normal. My youngest drew photos. He seemed to enjoy drawing pictures of things he loved to do with his grandma. I encouraged this, and of course, saved them all.
Read, Read, Read
Books about Heaven were a great resource for us. A few of our favorites include Heaven is For Real (for kids) and Heaven for Kids by Randy Alcorn. We read these over and over, each night my children requested them. It was a great opportunity to dive into spiritual questions and answers, as well as touch on the positive aspect which is, we will get to see Nana again one day.
Something to Hold
When we lost my mom and I was cleaning out her home, I thought ahead and grabbed some of her t-shirts from the dresser. Boy am I glad I did. The children each got one (and I did too). We slept with the shirts for quite some time and the kids really enjoyed being able to cuddle with something tangible.
Don’t Be Afraid to Talk
Don’t allow your fear of grief to keep you from talking about your loved one. Keep them alive through stories, memories, and even laughter! This can take place while making their favorite recipe, hearing a song you loved to sing together, even recalling a funny experience you shared. When children hear us talking about the one we lost, it gives them permission to talk about them as well. We want this! It helps greatly with the healing process.
Expect a Roller Coaster
Children are unique and wonderful and resilient, but grief does unexpected things. You may see a lack of emotion and think they aren’t feeling anything – or you may see so much emotion you wonder if this is normal. It is, all of it. Grief will ebb and flow, you never know what might trigger your child (or you!) to fall into a difficult space. The best advice I’ve been given is to walk right into it. Trying to avoid grief or walk around it only lengthens the process.
Give Them a Gift
Lastly, a special gift can become a beacon of hope. We decided to hand stamp a saying onto a spoon for our kids. They chose the text “Nana Loves Me” and I stamped it. These spoons rest in their bedrooms and they have enjoyed holding them close for more than three years now. Think of an age appropriate item you can present to your child that will remind them of the deep and unending love of the one they lost.
Grief can be challenging and oftentimes feels as though the pain will never end. Each person has a different experience with loss, so give grace to both yourself and your children. Don’t be afraid to reach out, too, for help. A therapist or counselor is a great asset to have on your team and can do a world of good for the entire family. I hope and pray these seven ideas will help you, should you find yourself or someone you know in the throes of grief.
Angie Warren is the glued-together, shattered but mended, daughter of the Most High. She walked through the fires of loss and the storms of grief, to emerge in a season of gratitude and great love. Angie lives in Northern California with her husband and three children, and in addition to writing for the lost and grieving, she enjoys sharing essays about her own journey in motherhood.