First, let me honestly say that I have not as an adult had to grieve as a part of my family. We have had deaths but none that I or my wife grieved over. But as I study the issue of grief I find parts of the story that don’t apply to me directly now but may in the future and I am sure will apply to those who read these few words.
First let me state what seems obvious, family members do not all grieve that same. Call me Captain Obvious, but some people mistakenly lump all grievers into one box. Families that include young children have several levels of grief happening all at once. There are the individuals, and then there are the parents. I have talked a lot about individual grief. But parents often feel the need to not show emotion or to shield their children from any discomfort. But the experience of grief can and often does draw families together.
Also, children process grief differently than adults. They experience many emotions that they do not know what to do with. Parents can feel powerless to be subjective or supportive. Experts say that having another adult who can help guide your children through their grief can be a great asset. Did you know that many children experience guilt and blame themselves over someone’s death? They don’t know that they aren’t responsible or that they did all that could be done. So they carry a load of guilt around. They also experience anger, fear, anxiety, and other things common to all. Finally, while grief feels like a way of life to adults, children grieve intermittently. Interesting.
How can we as adults help our children grieve? First, show them how to grieve by grieving honestly in front of them. Tell them how you feel, or how you were ambushed by grief and what did it. Let them know it is okay to talk about their emotions. And that it is okay to cry. Second, artwork seems to help children process trauma. Any medium that the child can create or express their inner feeling will help them externalize those feelings. Third, children respond to sensual stimulus. Sight, sound, smell. Allow the child to hold or wear or sleep with clothing or objects that belonged to the dead person. And finally, use this as a teaching time to help your child turn to God for help.
Because spouses are people first, realize that your spouse will grieve differently than you do. Do not let your spouses grief drive a wedge in your marriage. When things get tense, stop and talk it through.
There is help and resources to help grieving families. Ask for help from those you trust.