I had one of the worst days of my life this week. After months of severe, chronic pain caused by a tooth infection, I had it removed (Praise God!). But on the same day that I dealt with a traumatic tooth extraction, I had to put my cat down. It was a combination of the two that had me on the verge of tears all day. I lost my tooth which I’ve been determined to keep—even enduring serious pain for months while trying to save for an expensive procedure. I had to say goodbye to my cat, whom I’ve loved and spoiled and called my BFF (best furry friend) for almost six years. On top of that, I had to work because…bills, while also trying to rehome my dog, a puppy that needed veterinary care that we couldn’t afford after trying to save my cat.
I don’t know what upset me more at the time. The only thing I know is that I was filled with grief. I had empty hands and everything good fell through my fingers. I had tears that I couldn’t cry. I had pain that was unassociated with my dental procedure and which medication wouldn’t touch. My heart hurt.
In the midst of this horrible day, I somehow had to explain it to my kids while they were also having a horrible day themselves.
Let’s Talk Denial and Isolation
When you have kids underfoot, it’s impossible to isolate yourself. Instead of hiding in the closet with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, it’s easier to talk to them. Tell your children you’re struggling with something big. We told our kids on the first day we dropped Atticus at the vet that he may not make it. We told them when we got him back from the vet and gave him his medications. We warned them of the worst-case scenario even while we didn’t want to believe it ourselves. I think this honest communication helped them deal with their goodbye even while it helped us deal with this first stage of grief—this stage when it doesn’t seem real but you’re afraid it might be.
It’s important that you don’t isolate yourself from your children when first experiencing a loss, either personally or as a family. Children may blame themselves for the distance you create and the visible pain you’re experiencing.
Let’s Talk Anger
My kids have seen me angry. They’ve seen me angry at people, at myself, at their father, and…at them. I’m not proud of it, but I homeschool, I rarely go on dates or getaways without my kids, I’m always around them. So they’ve seen all of my emotions. What they have seldom seen is the angry fire of grief-soaked fuel. What they haven’t seen is my anger that is undirected because there is no one to blame. What they haven’t seen is anger that has no resolution. This can be the scariest anger for your child to witness because it may seem in their innocent minds that it’s directed at them. They may want to fix it and can’t. This is when it’s important to talk through your anger. Explain why you’re angry and at whom.
It’s important that you don’t take out your anger on your children while handling your angry grief.
Let’s Talk Bargaining
As we and our family deal with a loss, bargaining comes into play. The “what ifs” become a cycle that could go on forever. What if we’d gotten my cat to a vet six months ago instead of using diet and antibiotics to treat him at home? What if we’d had more money, more credit cards, pet insurance, or a health savings account? Maybe that would’ve fixed my tooth and our cat! What if we were different people…in a different world where death didn’t exist.
It’s important that your children understand that we cannot bargain with God to right all the wrongs in the world. He already is righting them. He already did. What if we lived in a world where all things are good? Assure the little ones that we will!
Let’s Talk Depression
After the denial, the anger, and the tearing our clothes in frustration for unchangeable circumstances, there is a certain silence. Depression is a part of grief that can take you down. When depression continues and grief reaches a standstill, you may be looking at Major Depression or Complicated Grief. You may be looking at bad days extending into bad months and even into bad years. Your grief or loss can make it difficult to get up in the morning, make sure laundry is done, and keep meals on the table. It may make you irritable, weepy, may make your children wonder if you’ll ever be happy again. It may make them wonder why they can’t make you smile and laugh.
It’s important that you talk to your children about the people and things that bring you hope and joy. Seek peace through scripture and prayer, spend time with your family, take up a hobby and fuel your passions.
Let’s Talk Acceptance
Sometimes it seems like children move through the five stages of grief in the matter of a day or a few hours. A friend moves away and they shed tears, act out for a couple of days, then get back to normal. Children reach forgiveness faster than we do as adults. They reach friendship faster than we do. Trust. Love. Kindness. Children move on quicker than we do. What we need to do is make sure they know what it is they’re accepting, what their new normal looks like.
It’s important to make sure your children have moved through the other stages of grief—stages that help us to understand the trigger and then process the trauma and grief of a loss. If your child seems fine, ask questions that will make them talk about it.
Grief doesn’t have to be caused by the death of a loved one. You, your spouse, and your children may experience grief for a number of reasons. The best way to get through it together is to talk about it.
Read Before You Talk
- Discussion Guide: Understanding Grief and Loss in Children
- How to Help Children Cope with Grief
- Helping Children Deal with Grief
- Bereavement Reactions by Age Group