A Time to Grieve
When there’s a death in the family, adults often want to protect children from experiencing the pain of losing someone close – but that can be a mistake.
Greta Randle, Chief Executive of the Association of Christian Counsellors (UK) suggests ways to work through the pain of bereavement
Bereavement is a loss. Losses can range from the death of a pet, redundancy, burglary, right through to the death of a child or adult to whom you have been close. Human reactions to these circumstances will vary according to the value and importance of what has been lost.
Grief is the natural and healthy response to a loss. If people try to close down the grieving process, it can cause problems later, both emotional and physical. There are a range of differences in how people grieve and cope with loss. Across different nationalities and cultures there are rituals and behaviours that sometimes help the bereaved person. For example in the Sikh community, many people gather and visit the bereaved allowing them to talk. Listening is helpful and it is therapeutic for a bereaved person.
It is not always necessary to receive counselling for grief. Grief is not depression although grieving people often feel low in mood and do not enjoy life initially. Grief is individual. It is a process which has several basic elements e.g. anger, guilt, yearning, despair and others. However these emotions will be experienced in different measures and in a variety of ways. To compare oneself with another’s experience may be quite discouraging. Rest and exercise and a balanced diet will aid the process.
When children suffer loss, especially death, they do not rationalise in the same way as adults. Very young children may think that the person is coming back. They will need to be told repeatedly so that they know it is a permanent loss. Older children understand but may ask questions and seem to dwell on death in their play. Adolescents’ cognitive processes are similar to adults but their reactions to a death may be more radical.
Sometimes in an attempt to be kind and protective of children, adults are not honest with them and they become confused and may demonstrate this by difficult behaviour. Talking with children about the reality of loss, the finality and answering their questions is vital for a healthy response and recovery from the loss.
- Following the initial shock, continue to socialize; don’t isolate yourself
- Talk with someone who can be trusted to listen and not feel they need to provide answers
- Take care of yourself
- Don’t make important decisions
- Keep them in their usual routine as much as possible
- Be honest and answer their questions truthfully
- Include them in the grieving process
- Allow people to talk without putting in your own opinions
- Don’t try to comfort with platitudes e.g. ‘It’s for the best, he’s not suffering.’
- Ask if there are chores around the house, garden or other practical ways you can help.
Two books to help children when someone close dies
Extra Special by Anna Payne is a delightful story about an elderly collector and his treasured butterfly, studded with precious jewels. This beautifully illustrated book, suitable for any child under 12, includes guidelines for parents, carers and others who are helping a bereaved child or those with close family members who are terminally ill.
Are You Sad, Little Bear? by Rachel Rivett, offers comfort and hope for very small children as the pain of losing Grandmother Bear turns to wonder, inspired by the changes Little Bear sees in the world around him.
Neither of these books is explicit in explaining the Christian hope of heaven. They could be used by anyone, with or without faith. Both use a story to speak loudly about the wonderful possibility of life after death, leaving parents and carers to introduce the child to faith at an appropriate time.