by Annell Decker, LPC
During years of working as a counselor and as a joint facilitator of a children’s grief group, some specific concerns stand out. Here are suggested ideas to consider, specific for parents as well as helping surviving children.
People who have not had a child die just don’t know what to say
How long is it OK to grieve? As long as you need; whatever is right for you as an individual. The responses of others will change and you may get a more positive dialogue from a professional after several months.
Belongings and “Shrines”
It is not unusual for bereaved parents to set up an area of the house, or a whole room, with the deceased child’s belongings. Or, the child’s belongings are gathered and there is a strong urge to not allow others to touch them. In order to include relatives and close friends, they may need something specific to hold onto, just as you do. Try to be generous and patient. This in no way diminishes your grief.
Please allow those who loved the child that died, especially siblings, to touch and reminisce, sharing their memories. This is an important part of healing. If the “shrine” is up after an extended amount of time, please consult with a therapist about healthy ways to move on, incorporating the change of dynamics.
This is an especially hard time, whether a largely recognized special time or time that was an annual family event. Allow those involved (siblings, grandparents, or close family friends) to help you plan the event. It may feel better to do something completely different – go on a trip, reach out to others, participate in some kind of charity event. Or, the family may want to keep a traditional activity and modify it – hand-made gifts or tree decorations instead of commercially purchased items. It is always appropriate to honor the deceased child with an ornament, sharing time with close family, a memorial given in their honor, planting a tree, and so on.
Children Grieve differently
You can learn about the normal way that children develop their thoughts, processing, and understanding of grief by your grief journey. Try to answer questions as honestly as you can. It’s OK if you are not ready to talk much. It is always right to listen. Smaller children incorporate the events around them into their playtime and this is age-appropriate. Teens may be broody, need space, or just the opposite. There is no perfection. Try to be open, honor their feelings, and be willing to share yours.
If healing does not seem to be coming – old wounds, childhood hurts, the cultural family of origin issues – are brought into the grieving process. If you are not able to eventually get back into some semblance of a normal routine, it is healthy to seek professional help. There are many sources available. Taking some kind of physical activity is useful: write a letter and burn it to release to the universe, a photo or memory album, donation to a cause that is worthy, volunteering can all be helpful. Take good care of yourself!
About the Author: Annell Decker has a BA in History and an MEd in Counseling from Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas. She is a certified Licensed Professional Counselor. Annell worked with the Family Crisis Center of the Big Bend, Alpine, and the Ray D. Anderson Community Corrections Facility, Brownfield (TX). Annell has worked as a Case Manager for La Hacienda Treatment Center in Hunt, (TX). She has volunteered her time with the American Cancer Society as well as Peterson Hospice (Kerrville, TX) with their Bridging the Gap and Pathways programs.