Grieving Children and Emotional Dialogue

At the start of my grief journey tears would leak out of my eyes, sometimes without me being aware. Many days I would be driving with my two living sons, then 4 and 2, and a song would play on the radio, or a beautiful sight would greet my eyes or a memory would float across in my mind. It was impossible to hold in the emotion. The question, “Mommy, why are you crying?” transformed into an early teaching opportunity on emotions.

It was not one that I had ever planned to teach my boys. Sure, they had seen me express emotions, but these were intense emotions. Children can sense and feel the intensity. It was obvious to me that I needed to address my tears, and the intensity of my emotions, with these two precious beings who were thrust on this unwanted journey with me. Since they were so young, we were together almost always, meaning that they felt my intense emotions almost always.

A photo of my two boys loving on each other. Thank God they have each other.

There was a certain anecdote that I read shortly after losing Christian. If I were ever able to remember where I read it, I would find the author and thank her a million times over, because it shaped how I handled grieving around my children.

The author was a grieving mother and she detailed the lengths to which she went to hide her intense emotions whenever her living child was around. She felt that shielding her would save her from seeing her mother in pain. One day when the child wanted to do something and the mother denied her because she was afraid that it would put her in a harmful situation, the child looked up at her mother, with large eyes and said something to the effect of,

You never cry about my sister who died, so I didn’t think it would upset you if something happened to me.

All this time the mother had assumed that she was sheltering her, but instead her daughter had interpreted her hidden emotions as apathy. Not only did this affect the way she viewed her mother, as a mother, but it also must have affected her own grieving process. She received the message that it was not safe to express her own emotions. She learned that when something bad happens, we just stuff it down and shut down.

That story has given me the permission and encouraged me to be open about ALL my emotions with my children. When they asked in the car why I was crying, I was honest and said because I miss Christian. When I gather them in a hug, now and then, I tell them how grateful I am to be their mom. Upon the arrival of milestones in each of their lives, it is not uncommon for them to see me shed a tear or many, as well as congratulate, celebrate and express my happiness for them. They are no stranger to seeing their mom experience a variety of emotions over a short period of time.

Isn’t this life though? So often a child is crying and we attempt to distract them from the thing that made them cry. It makes it easier on us as parents, at that time. What if I told you that it made it harder on the child as he grew up? Why are we taught at a young age to distract our feelings away?

It has made us into a society that is uncomfortable with messy feelings. The earlier our children learn that we must acknowledge and feel all feelings, the more equipped they will be to handle life. The more resilient they will be.

A great way to do that is to model it. Let them see that you have “blue” days and frustrating moments. Let them hear that you achieved a goal that you were working toward and you feel proud. Show them that there are a gamut of emotions and we all feel them at some point. The strength lies in feeling them.

The more we normalize and are open about our own emotions, the more encouraged they will be to share theirs. No one escapes this life pain free. Let’s help our children learn how to move through that pain and not disassociate from it. Let them know you see them and you are attuned to their emotions. Let them know you are a safe place and you will help them work through their emotions.

This has helped my living, grieving boys work through some really big feelings. It has helped them to learn that they can feel horrible in the morning, but things can turn around in the afternoon. Even more importantly if an event is traumatic and shakes them to their core, they can learn to work through it and rebuild. This is where strength lies. Love to Heaven…

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