How do you help your child or children to grieve after the bereavement/death of a parent
How do children deal with bereavement?
Having a family member such as a parent die is one of the worst experiences of anyone’s life, but for a child losing a parent can be much worse. All children deal with grief differently, just as adults do, and because of this, before you approach any issues relating to the grieving process with your child you should take into account their age, personality and if they have encountered death before, maybe with a grandparent, friend of the family or maybe even a pet.
Here I am going to try and give you the facts on how health professions and so called experts feel child bereavement should be treated. Afterwards I am going to recall my own experience having lost my father when I was just 12 years old to cancer.
The so called facts of dealing with a grieving child
Children of all ages need help with their grieving process. It may not come naturally for them to talk or show their feelings, so, as the surviving parent it usually falls on you to provide the help and support they need during this time, even though you are probably struggling yourself. If you feel that you are unable to talk to your child because of your own grief, try to get a close friend to do so.
With very young children, drawing pictures of the relative that has died can encourage this. With older children, if they are struggling to talk, writing a story about an event that changed their life, or a family holiday they remember is a good way of opening them up to their feelings. It is important to remember that even though you are grieving and probably don't want your child to see you upset or crying, you must show your child that it is OK to cry and that you know how they feel.
Very often after someone has died your child may ask very random questions. 'What will happen to me if Mum/Dad dies too? Will I die like them? Was it because of something I did?' If your child does ask any questions like this, it is very important to reassure them that it was obviously NOT their fault, and that they will not die in the same manner as their parent. Answer the questions as honestly as you can, explaining what happened and why. This helps to prevent confusion with ½ truths. it is important not to use ‘Euphemisms’ such as ‘they went away’ or ‘they went to sleep’. These sorts of statements can inevitably cause your child to have problems going to sleep, and they may be afraid that people will not come back when they just pops to the shop.
After the relative has died you may find that your child becomes withdrawn or maybe starts to get into trouble at school. If this happens it is usually a cry for help and should be treated as such. Try to get their school involved, as many schools now have counselling programmes set up within them. Counselling is good for the whole family and should be encouraged. However it is important to encourage your child to still enjoy life, take them to the sports clubs, shopping and parties. As sad as you feel, it is true that ‘Life goes on’.
A little light reading that could help the situation
My father was diagnosed with cancer when I was 11 years old and my older brother 17. The doctors advised my parents not to tell me as they felt that I was to young to understand the situation fully, but were advised to explain things to my brother. During the 8 months after my Dad was diagnosed I carried on with life as normal. Yes, at times I felt there was something that I was missing, after all Dad wasn’t going to work anymore, instead he went to see spiritual healers where he sometimes took me, and we had people come and visit which just was not the norm.
My brother however was very different. He started to spend less and less time at home. He couldn’t bear to be in the same room as Dad at the end. I didn’t really take much notice of it at the time, but I realise now as an adult this was down to his fear of the unknown. He was probably thinking that he would be alone with Dad when he died if he spent to much time with him. I don’t know how things were explained to him back then, it was some 19 years ago now, but I can imagine that it was just the basics of what was wrong and that Dad was going to die.
After Dad died, I remember just literally carrying on as normal, going to school, I even went to a friend’s birthday party 3 days after it happened. Nobody really talked to me, but it was ok. As time went on I became slightly withdrawn, not really feeling a part of anything, I still feel that way sometimes today, but have the confidence of life to get me through. It was a few years before I started to realise that I didn’t really know all there was to know about his death and started to ask the questions (I was ready to know now). Mum still found it difficult to talk so I turned to teachers and close friends, eventually after 2 years I knew how he died. I also remember asking Mum one day were I would live if anything happened to her. I cannot remember how she answered it, but I am sure she reassured me, as it never came up again.
I was encouraged to have counselling at school, which was of great help. Unfortunately nobody else would have any. My counsellor even offered to come to the house to see us all as a group.
My brother, well he coped much differently, by wearing his feeling on his sleeve. He became angry and bad tempered at everyone around him. He would become violent, not towards us but towards objects within the home and then go to the pub and drown his sorrows. It took nearly 10 years of grieving, motor vehicle accidents and partial suicide attempts before he met his now wife. He still doesn’t deal with death very well.
19 years on and we are all doing ok now. I still have moments when I grieve, the birth of my son was one of those moments, and my brothers very close friend died in an accident a short while ago, and this made us all think about the past. Both of our marriages were hard on Mum but we find that as much as it hurts talking about it still helps.