We Get It: Parenting Through Grief

Today, on the anniversary of September 11th, Rebekah from The Golden Gleam has asked me to contribute to her We Get It series about difficult childhood issues on the topic: Parenting through Grief.

How to comfort, love, and speak with those who suffer is important for every person to know (especially a parent). Loss, whether of a grandparent, a child’s parents’ marriage, or even a pet touches every child at some point in time and I hope to help you today by sharing my own personal experience of loss and parenting through grief as well as some resources and ideas for helping children grieve.

how to help children with death and loss



In 2009, my world was broken apart when two weeks after a “perfect” 20 week ultrasound of my second son, I found myself lying still in a hospital bed trying to hold back contractions that would not stop, unable to stop my body from birthing a son that did not have a chance to live. He was born, and I held him and felt his heart beat against mine for a few moments of life until he died in my arms.


I left the hospital with empty arms and a broken heart.


I went home to my older little boy who was still really a baby himself at only eighteen months. And, he still needed me.

We had a lot of behavior problems with my child around that time. He was a difficult baby who cried quite a bit still. Beyond his normal fussiness, my child responded to the home’s emotional stress by frequent tantrums combined with biting and hitting.

I Get It, parenting through grief is hard, and it is lonely.

Since then, we have been blessed with another child, a little girl, and the dark time of early grief is over. We have also experienced the true love of God and comforting truths of a perfect new world where we will be able to touch and hold our child again. But still, our family including the children will never “get over it”. Even though my son was young when his brother died, he now is growing older and more aware of his loss. Sometimes, he will tell me how he wishes his brother was here. And, he always will miss the friend and playmate that he lost. I can’t fix that for him. Our family will always feel that missing part of who we are.

I try to make that grief easier for him by providing an environment that naturally allows him to express his sense of loss and positively use his grief to make the world a better place. I don’t profess to be an expert on how to help children through grief, but here is a list of ten practical suggestions for parenting through grief from what I have learned through my own loss and from conversations with others. If you are reading this and have more advice, I would love for you to share your ideas in the comment section.

 
Take care of yourself.  Your children need you to take care of yourself.

    • Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family to babysit occasionally, so that you can take time to journal, pray, or attend a local support group.
    • Don’t be embarrassed to get help if needed, whether from a counselor, pastor, or doctor.
    • Surround yourself with people who understand and will listen by joining local and online support networks.

Expect behavior problems and regressions in milestones such as potty training and night time sleeping. Instead of punishing your children, find positive ways to help them channel their emotions (see below for some ideas.)

Give your children a sense of security by trying to maintain your normal rules and routine as much as possible.

    Talk to your children in simple, concrete terms. Avoid terms that could be misunderstood such as “asleep” or “passed away”. Young children may also have trouble understanding the permanency of death.

    Provide comfort objects for your children, such as a blanket or soft object that belonged to or reminds them of the one they lost.

    Reassure your children. Kids often worry that they caused the death, whether by a unkind action or thought or just by not doing enough to help the deceased. Children may also be frightened by the realization that other people they love could die too.

    Fill your life with peaceful reminders of the loved one.

    • Place photos and symbolic reminders around the home and yard.
    • Remembrance jewelry makes lovely gifts for older children. (You can find so many beautiful pieces of jewelry on Etsy and in boutique shops. Even “Big Box” stores such as Walmart sell special order jewelry that you can personalize with a name and photo.)
    • Create an “I Remember” book (see Living Montessori NOW for directions).

    Add a special touch to the holidays and anniversaries.

    • On our baby’s birthday, we take little gifts from the children such as toy cars and place them on his grave. We also still make a birthday cake and invite the family over for a special time to remember our child. Other ideas would be releasing balloons for each year that the person has been gone.
    • For Christmas, we have special ornaments that we allow the children to place on the tree in memory of our child. Other families we know light special candles through the Advent season in memories of lost family members.
    • For Easter, we made special “Memory Eggs” and a Resurrection Garden.

    Let children process their grief through activities and crafts. In addition to the activities mentioned previously you could:

    • Make garden stones.
    • Scrapbook.
    • Plant a tree or flowering shrub.
    • Read books about death together. 

    Show your children how to positively channel grief.

    • Donate to a related cause. We help collect blankets, prayer shawls, and infant outfits for our local hospital. I also give my son money to drop in the Children’s Hospital donation box at the store when we shop.
    • Help others who have experienced loss. Some of my best conversations about death and our family have been when my child observes me weeping about another lost baby or searching for a card or gift for a bereaved mother. 

      Additional resources:

      If you are parenting through grief, you are not alone. Find support and take one day at a time. If you need additional resources or just want to tell me your story, you are always welcome to leave me a comment or write me an email at notwiddletwaddle@gmail.com.

      Bethany

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      Comments

      1. says

        Thank you so much for sharing your history and providing very wonderful and useful tips. I imagine this was a hard post to write, but it will benefit so many. I’m so sorry for your loss.

      2. says

        You have touched my heart, Bethany. Your words and memories are so special and thank you for sharing them with others. I know it must have been so hard to write this. Much love to you and your family, Bethany. You’re an incredible woman and mother.

      3. says

        Oh my goodness, you have me in tears. There is so much love and sadness and emotion and yet strength in this. You are amazing for sharing this for us and for coping with the loss of your baby in such an amazing way. I really hope that this will help others in a similar situation to yours. It must be so hard to grieve and yet to remember and focus to the children that are still in your life, when all you want to do is to focus on your own feelings.

        Thank you

        Maggy

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