Grief is personal. Grief is as unique as the relationship you shared with the person who died. Your family has its own identity too and when death happens within a family unit, there can be special challenges. There are group needs within the family and individual needs. Families also have various age ranges and life experience.
You may feel at a loss to know how to manage your personal grief while addressing the needs of your other family members, especially when children are grieving.
The Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit education organization that provides the program many have grown to love over their life time, Sesame Street. Beyond television, they provide content for multiple media platforms on a wide range of issues, including grief.
In Sesame Workshop's, When Families Grieve
, they share insightful information for families who are touched by the death of a loved one. The following are various excerpts from their presentation.
"While adults have a greater understanding that death is part of a cycle, your children often do not have this same level of understanding. They need your guidance through this most difficult time, Since each child is unique, a parent's way of discussing death can vary. Here are some tips that might help you:
Gently explain what death is
. Try to be a concrete as possible. For example, you might say, 'When a person dies, his or her body stops working. The heart stops beating and the body stops moving, eating and breathing.'
Children may not realize
that death is permanent. They may ask questions or make statements, such as 'When is Daddy coming back?' or 'I am going to show Mommy my new picture.' Try to use terms such as 'died' or 'dead.' Although such phrases as 'went to sleep,' 'your loss' and 'passed away' may seem gentler, they may also be confusing. Since young children often think literally, they may think that, if others look hard enough, a 'lost' parent could be found.
Your children may worry about you
, thinking that if one parent can die, the other might, too. Reassure them by saying, 'No one can promise that he or she won't die, but we take care of ourselves by staying healthy and strong, and I expect us to stay together for a long time.'
It is important to recognize that your children might feel angry at or disappointed with their parent for dying. Allow them to express their feelings openly and tell them that these feelings, too, are OK ('I know you're upset that Mom died. Sometimes I feel like that, too.')
You might not be able to take the hurt away. And, it's all right to let your children know that you don't have all the answers to their questions. However, by being honest, listening to and validating their feelings, and even relying on your cultural or religious beliefs, you can provide them with the reassurance they need.
'Who will take care of me?'
may be a big question on your children's minds after the death of their parent. Offer examples that demonstrate how you and other special individuals will be there for them ('I will tuck you in at night and read a bedtime story' or 'Grandma will now pick you up at school').
It's common for young children to believe that things happen for a reason; they may have difficulty separating fact from chance, resulting in magical thinking.
Your children might draw inaccurate conclusions.
For example, they may blame themselves for the death ('If only I did not get mad at Daddy the day before, he would not have died') and think they could bring that person back if only they behave. Remind them that nothing they did caused the death or can reverse it.
Your children might assume
that if they can't see their parent's body, he or she isn't really dead. You can explain by saying, 'Even though we can't bring back the person who died, his or her memory can live on in our hearts.' "
Next month, we will continue this discussion about children's needs within the family. We will explore Sesame Workshop's words regarding children's behavior during grief, ways to help them express their feelings, finding comfort together as a family and how to move forward. If you would learn more about Sesame Workshop, visit their website: http://sesameworkshop.org
No matter your age, when someone significant dies, those who grieve are vulnerable and perhaps even fragile. All possess an inner child and I hope this will speak to your heart as you grieve individually as well as within your own family unit.