I have had many people ask me in person and through emails about how to help children grieve and understand death. This post is intended to give you a glimpse into my experience with small children grieving. These memories are from 8-10 years ago…so keep that in mind. We are no longer in such a heart wrenching cycle.
On the darkest days…and there were a lot of them, it was hard for me to think of anything except the fact that Jake was dead. Everything I did for my kids was hard and painful. I felt like I was trying to run through mud that came up to my chest.
I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breath, I couldn’t live, I couldn’t die.
They deserved to feel like nothing bad would ever happen to them, like all the other kids around them. Their innocence was shattered and ripped away. They were left with over whelming feelings of fear and anxiety that everyone they knew would die and they would be left alone.I felt like I was nothing and was a worthless mother. My kids didn’t deserve this life that had be forced upon them. They deserved happiness, a life running around on a cattle ranch in the shadow of their loving father. They deserved a mother that could go to the grocery store and buy food for her family, and then actually make a dinner for them. They deserved to feel like nothing bad would ever happen to them, like all the other kids around them. Their innocence was shattered and ripped away. They were left with over whelming feelings of fear and anxiety that everyone they knew would die and they would be left alone. They played games constantly about people dying. They wanted to know who would take care of them if I died, if Grandma and Grandpa died, if all their aunts and uncles died too. What if they were the only one alive left in our family, who would take care of them then? They buried every toy they played with and told me all the horrific ways these poor toys met their death.
I was thankful that I had read a grief book* on children that explained that it was very normal for them to play these games and act out scenarios about death.
It made it so I didn’t stop them from playing the games, understanding it was a normal part of their grief; however, that didn’t make it any easier for me to deal with! Every time they played the games I pictured my perfect husband being crushed between metal and his dead body in the ground. How could this be my life? I was too young to be a widow. When I thought of widows I thought of 80 year old women in a quilting guild. The kids cried every day for their daddy. And when I say cried everyday, I mean sobbing, tears down their cheeks, uncontrollable crying every single day for 600+ days. I cried everyday too.
I was worried that they would forget their dad so we started some traditions the day he died that would stay with us through out their lives. When we pray we always say, “Please bless that daddy will watch over us.” I would tell “daddy stories” to them constantly. Daddy stories are fun stories of when he was alive, memories the kids had that I wanted them to hold on to and also stories from his childhood. I remember when it was around the 4 or 5 year anniversary, Jordy saying to me as we were driving to one of Jake’s memory day dinners…“Shouldn’t we be learning about Daddy right now?” That is the perfect way of describing how I was raising them. Jordy was 18 months old so any memory he has of his dad…he has had to learn.
It took us nearly two years to get into a children’s grief center. The Sharing Place offered a place of peace, relief, and the security of knowing we were not alone on this path of loss. We stayed there for 6 years. We love them to this day. I will post more on this and the lessons that we learned from The Sharing Place that helped us understand death, and helped me learn how to better help my children grieve. There are very specific things you can do that will help…as well as things you should avoid. Look for these posts soon!