Grief and Self Trust

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Grief teaches us so much more than how to live without someone we love.

One of the most valuable lessons it has taught me is how to trust myself more. This lesson is helpful in so many ways, but perhaps the most rewarding is when I am able to trust my parenting choices.

Like most moms, before I earned the status of mom I had many visions of what it would like in my head. My children would always be well behaved, polite children. They would follow the routine that I so carefully constructed for them. All we need is love, right? I knew how to love furiously.

I was in for a rude awakening. When my firstborn, Christian, entered my life I knew I was immediately blessed. What I didn’t know was that I was a woman who knew absolutely nothing about the most important job I was about undertake – parenting.

As a reader, I had read all the books. I assumed the knowledge gained would be applied and all would fall into place. My dad liked to tell me, “You may have read the baby books, but he didn’t”. Point taken.

On that cold, Christmas morning my husband and I brought home our brand new baby. We even stopped by our church to have the priest bless him. A baby blessed on Christmas Day. The irony of thinking that immediately we had afforded him some sort of special protection. We know now that does not exist.

We fawned over him. He was beautiful. He was perfect. As night approached it became obvious that he was not one for sleeping. My mom was with me, though, so I had added insurance that what I was doing was correct.

Time went on and his dislike of sleep became stronger. He never wanted to miss anything. Again, ironic seeing as his life was cut short. I re-read all the books, tried all the methods and felt like a big failure because no matter what I did, he wouldn’t nap as long as the books recommended or sleep as long as they said he should.

The problem wasn’t in what I was or wasn’t doing. It was in my lack of self trust, lack of self confidence. I have always had this underlying issue. Christian certainly did not make it appear. However, I had always assumed that I would be a successful mother. I always wanted kids, I babysat a lot, my mom was great. What could go wrong? This left me feeling like even more of a failure.

Looking back on this time with Christian now breaks my heart. I do wish I had enjoyed it more. If only I knew then what I know now… or rather if only I trusted myself then like I trust myself now.

There is nothing in the world that makes losing Christian okay or positive. Nothing. Given that I cannot change the situation, however, one positive that has come out of life since his death is learning self trust.

It is happening very slowly and it is a continual process. In my quest to have a continuous relationship with Christian as an angel, I have had to learn about myself and attune to myself in much different ways. This has fostered a more trusting self relationship.

In parenting, this has helped immensely. Questioning every decision I made with Christian was completely exhausting and damaging to my self confidence. These days, I am able to make decisions without questioning most of them. It is a freedom I never thought possible.

When faced with questions I didn’t have the answer to after Christian’s death, I was forced to rely on my own thoughts. Of course, I consulted therapists, other grieving mothers and trusty old books. The thing was no one had all the answers. No one could tell me what was right for my family, but me. It was then that I began to see and act on that.

As my boys grow and our relationship to death changes, we are learning a lot together. I have learned that they need an adult to be honest with them. How will I gain their trust if they don’t believe me? So it has been my practice to practice honesty, age appropriately. I have seen this be a positive in my boy’s lives.

I also encourage them to speak about their feelings and not shy away from them. We speak openly when someone is upset. If they are not in a place where they want to talk about things, I read their cues and let them know that they are not alone. I am always here. Then my trick is to try to get them moving, or get them in the car! Both help to get them talking.

When we were first thrown into the whirlwind of grief, I was terrified that they would forget Christian. They were so little. There were times when I had to really attune to them because I might be sharing a memory and their body language or attention made it obvious that they didn’t want to be a part of it right then. I had to put my own fears, worries, and anxieties aside to see that me forcing Christian memories on them wouldn’t make it any better.

When my boys began to be aware of graveyards and headstones. They naturally asked about Christian and where he was buried. They wanted to know how he could “always be around us” if he was buried somewhere. This led to our conversation about body, souls and energy. It also forged the way for me to see if they were ready to visit Christian’s headstone. They had never been before. There was no pressure, but rather me trusting that they would let me know when they were ready.

With so many decisions about raising a family after a devastating loss like child loss, being individualistic, we forged our own path. I was forced, in a positive way, to trust my instincts. As emotions rose, I knew I had other people to turn to talk things out, and I did. I also had faith that Christian would guide me, and he does.

As my boys get older, their understanding of death and how to continue on, continues to evolve. Each of them holds on to Christian in their own way. They each have a special relationship with him.

Just as I was thrown into the world of children not knowing what I was doing, I was thrown into child loss not knowing what I was doing. Love certainly helped with both. Self trust also made a big difference. If I could go back I would parent Christian quite differently, but maybe I wasn’t supposed to know that then. I don’t know everything about parenting after loss, but I am learning more and more as I go along. More importantly I am learning to trust myself and my instincts. It has been extremely freeing. I must thank Christian for that. Love to Heaven…

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…

Anger Rooted In Grief

A vine of sadness climbs up from the pit of my stomach. Rooted in the soil of grief, the offshoots extend through my limbs, each with numerous thorns protruding from them. Gripping sadness pierces my insides.

My memories of you are so difficult to feel. I can see them. When I allow myself to watch videos, I can hear them. I can’t feel them.

Sockless heels grazing my mid shins. I can feel that. It’s the only memory I can feel. It’s from your last day on Earth. You sat on my lap at my parent’s kitchen table just hours before your physical presence would be forever gone.

No longer can I feel your arms around my neck. I can’t feel your small body crashing into me or jumping on me. No more of your hair tickling my face. All of your physicality is gone from my life and my memories.

It’s been six years and I can only feel those bare heels on my shins. It’s not enough. I am angry, furious. Why doesn’t my body remember more of your physical presence? Why can’t I recall those nights when you would sidle up next to me in bed after a nightmare?

You are connected to so many beautiful days and memories in my mind but I want to FEEL them. All I have now is this vine of sadness, growing in me. I will make space for it and acknowledge it because the work I have done has taught me that it’s essential. I must feel to heal.

My work has also taught me that this is a wave. This is part of the grief cycle and I will come back around to the positive part of the cycle, but right now I am angry. Angry that my firstborn has been gone for six years. Angry that I only got to feel him with me, physically, for six years. Angry that that time in my life is over. Angry about these gnarly vines that are thick and twisted. Angry about the thorns that are piercing and painful. Angry that this vine will always exist inside of me. Angry that you no longer live outside of me.

Our spiritual connection will never fade, but I am angry that the feeling of our memories have.

Mothering Grieving Children

Children are amazing. They possess the uncanny ability to absorb information even when we have no idea they are listening.

A little over a month ago we lost a very special person in our lives, my father in law. To my children he was Nonno.

They had a mutual adoration for each other. What wasn’t to love? Nonno was a warm, cheery guy who took them into his garden, sang to them and supplied them with raspberries and whole chocolate bars. He had a big heart, big smile and even bigger hugs. Every time he said goodbye he made sure to tell them, “If there is anything you need or want, you call Nonno”. He was a quintessential Italian Nonno.

Family has always been a top priority in both my and my husband’s lives. We are fortunate enough to live 5 minutes away from both sets of our parents. Our children have grown up seeing their grandparents at least once a week. This was an important factor in deciding where to raise our family.

When we knew my father in law was nearing the end of his time on Earth, we knew honesty was imperative when speaking to our children. They’ve had more experience with death than some adults. It was crucial that we speak openly with them.

Curiously they each had a separate reaction. Anthony, age 9, immediately assumed the role of a mature big brother. He seemed to be stoic but it was unclear whether that was for him, for his little brother or for us. We constantly reminded him that we were a safe place. If he had questions or emotions, he was free to share them with us. At times he did provide insight to his feelings. His approach was extremely matter of fact. Death is imminent for all of us. He would miss Nonno very much, but when it was his time, it was his time. He was not detached from his emotions, merely aware of the reality of death.

Nicky, age 7, had a very different and much more effusive display of emotion. He immediately began to cry, demanding to know why so many people he loved had already died and he was only 7. He was angry, confused, hurt and sad.

It would have been great if I could have given him a answer as to why so many people he loved had died. Instead all I could do was listen and tell him I understood why he was so sad.

It can be hard for parents to sit with their children’s feelings, listening to their hurt and sadness. Our immediate instinct is to fix them. Pain and sadness are viewed as negative, undesirable emotions. While no one enjoys feeling them, we must. It is simple as that. We must feel our feelings. Children must be allowed to do that too.

Navigating grieving a child and raising other children at the same time has been one of the hardest things I ever had to do. It is completely overwhelming. Tasked with processing my own grief, and watching little people whom I love so much do the same, is all consuming and confusing.

There is nothing that I would love more than to wave a magic wand and erase the grief their little hearts have endured. I am certain this is not possible. The best course of action is to teach them how to maneuver grief, to teach them that all emotions, and expressions of them, are acceptable and healthy. Most importantly I can teach them how to continue a relationship with their loved ones who they are no longer able to see in the physical state.

Death is always going to evoke sadness. Grief will present itself throughout all of our lives, in different ways. My children’s relationship to grief will most certainly be different than most, given their young experience with death so close to the heart. In a total of 7 and 9 years they lost their brother, great grandmother and grandfather, all whom they were extremely close to.

Mothering my grieving children has been my job for the past six years. At times it hasn’t felt like enough. It certainly doesn’t pay any bills. It doesn’t always offer a sense of reward or accomplishment. At times it feels like I should be doing more than “just” mothering my grieving children. There are plenty of mothers who mother grieving children and have their own career. Sometimes it feels like I should be doing both. Many a therapy session has been spent processing these emotions, which run much deeper than just this. However, Christian is teaching me to trust my instincts and to be grateful for where my feet are.

One day shortly after my father in law went to Heaven, I was getting ready to go spend some time with my mother in law for the day. As I was saying goodbye to Anthony he said, “Mom, give Nonna a giant hug for me and tell her not to worry. Even though we can’t see Nonno anymore he is still here”. My heart melted. It was in that moment that I knew my “just” mothering grieving children was exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

Nonno and Christian and Grandma Tisi are all still here. They send us signs constantly. We feel their love and know they will never truly leave us. Even my boys have experienced this. Thank you Christian for helping to me teach your brothers this very important lesson of life, death and unending love. Love to Heaven…

Pitched Grief

I opened my eyes this morning, greeted by the bittersweet emotion that accompanies an angel dream. Recently I have been having more dreams with Christian in them. He is not the focus but a presence.

In this dream he was both. He was peering through a chain link fence at a baseball field. As he watched a boy hit balls lofted to him from a pitching machine, he had a look of sadness on his face. When I asked him what was wrong, he said nothing was wrong but he wanted to have a turn to hit the ball from the machine. My heart cracked, as it does each time I am reminded of things he will never get to do. He never did hit a ball that way.

At some point during all of this interaction a voice said, “He is unhappy on Earth because he is not fulfilling his purpose”. Well, maybe not those exact words but something to that effect. The inference was that his higher purpose and strongest, most meaningful affect is achieved as an angel.

It got me thinking. Is this really true? Or is this just something those who are grieving tell themselves to feel better?

You may have noticed that my writing has become sporadic. Where I was once in a spiritual growth period, I am now feeling stunted. My path is unsure. My purpose for this life is not clear.

Perhaps it is because I am dipping a toe into the acceptance pond. Five years have passed and that little boy who I imagined I would watch grow is truly gone from Earth.

The world keeps turning. Time marches on. It is a blessing to know that he is not forgotten. So many amazing people reach out to me and tell me the ways in which he affected and continue to affect their lives. Time marches on.

This is a cruel reality. Two boys growing up without their oldest brother. A mother and father left to watch as others morph into the type of person their son might have been. A life full of questions about who Christian would be if he were still alive.

The acceptance of this reality pulses through me in a different way than it once did. When we first lost him breathing was painful. With time that eased and I found a way to breathe but it was not as easy a as it once was.

Waves of grief would wash over me and my breath once again stolen. This still happens but not as frequently.

The dull ache that pulses through me now is constant. It allows me to live my life, function and make new memories with my family. It allows me to feel Christian’s presence.

Acceptance is a necessary stage of grief and reality, but it is also sobering in a way that none of the other stages have been.

And so, here we are peering through the chain link fence wishing, as a family, we could hit that ball from the machine. We will never get that chance. Just as Christian missed out on the opportunity to do so many things, so did we. We are merely spectators as other families experience things wholly and whack those balls out of the park. Love to Heaven…

Scrapbooking Through Grief

Five years ago last night God brought me to the brink of urgency and fear. He then showered me with his mercy. As I watched my home go up in flames, my emotions flickered between disbelief, fear and sadness. My family had moved into our home a mere eight months prior to the fire that was ignited by a strike of lightening. We were still putting our own personal touches on it.

It was not just a home. It symbolized a life that we looked forward to continue cultivating with our three boys. Many of the key reasons we moved to this home revolved around our children. We imagined all of the beautiful holidays and get togethers to be hosted. We pictured our boys splashing in the pool and playing baseball and kickball games in our large yard. We had space to entertain indoors and ou. We loved our home and all the opportunities it afforded us to spend time with family and friends.

As I watched the fire licking the roof many emotions surfaced. The fire trucks screamed down our street, a small neighborhood of only eight houses. The lights were blinding. The image of the firefighters battling the flames is forever ingrained in my mind. Nonetheless we were extremely cognizant that it was just a home. We were all safe and had the summer to look forward to.

On the morning of July 4th 2014. I woke up dazed and shocked in my parents home. Immediately I said a quick prayer to God, thanking him for my family’s safety. We went about the day in a bit of a fog but managed to enjoy many patriotic activities. We watched the fireworks that night and the explosion of colors reflected on my boys’ faces. My heart swelled with love for them and my husband.

Five years have passed since our home was struck by lightening. It is the turning point in our lives that set everything into motion. Christian’s final summer with us was filled with many smiles, hugs and laughs. I regret that I did not capture more of them.

Two years ago I decided I would create a summer scrapbook. It was such a cathartic activity for me. Summer is when I get to spend the most intensive time with my boys. The project spurred me to capture all of the fun we have together, as a family and with friends. It offered me a daily activity to focus on. During the day I was on constant watch for photo worthy moments. At night I creatively designed the pages for the scrapbook. We often look at it and relive the memories.

(From Summer 2017 scrapbook)

I’m not sure why, but last summer I did not make a scrapbook. It seemed like more work than pleasure. This summer, however, I knew I wanted to take up this project again. Summer was the last season we spent with Christian. It is extremely bittersweet. The scrapbook allows me to enjoy making new memories. There are also many photos of the signs he sends us. So, while photos of his face do not appear, photos of his love do. Love to Heaven…

Use The Same Ruler For Blessings and Tragedy

Sometimes the ruler we use to measure just how bad things are is the same one we need to use to measure just how good things are. Let me explain. A friend of mine likes to tease me about something I said after losing Christian. In effect, it was this, “You know things are bad when (insert any number of people’s names who I hadn’t spoken to in about 20 years) is sending me food, a donation and/or condolence cards.

After losing our firstborn, Christian, my husband and I received many a card, gift and/or meal from people who we had not be in touch with for many years or never even met. That is the mark of an extreme tragedy.

As I have said many times before, we all go through our own trials and tribulations. The sign of extreme trials and tribulations is when you begin to receive support from people you have not been in touch with recently and/or people you never met. In effect, they are saying no amount of time would come in between my support of someone who has been devastated to this measure. The hardship is so severe that it is hard to avert.

My husband and I are high school sweethearts. Our high school years were filled with mutual friends. We attended a small school in upstate New York, with a graduating class of 200 students. We all knew each other. My husband and I chose to live in the same town because we appreciated that sense of community. Never did we imagine just how much we would need to rely on it. Our community has gone above and beyond. Last year I published a thank you to all who continue to support us.

We have an amazing, tight knit group of friends who, like us, decided to raise their families here because at least one of them grew up in our town. They, too, appreciated the sense of community. There were plenty of people from our town, however, who decided that kind of environment was not fitting for them. After losing Christian, one of the most astounding aspects of the tragedy was just how many of them reached out to us, providing their support in so many ways. It was a true testament to the way we all grew up together.

Many years had passed since we had seen some of our classmates, yet they went so far as to write us and let us know the ways in which our tragedy affected their own lives. It was, and still is, quite touching. Even today when we are in contact with many of our classmates on social media, they let us know that they are always thinking of us.

The depth of our tragedy is so deep and dark that those who didn’t know us or never knew us as parents, provided support. Almost five years later I have come to realize that the depth of darkness is equal to our height of blessings. These people can never take the pain away. They know that. We know that. Their support, love and generosity stays with us today. It helps to lift us.

There is no recollection of the exact support we received from who. There is a strong recollection of who showed their support in any way. Big, small, grand, minute – it truly doesn’t matter how you showed you were there for us. It matters that you did.

So, yes, the depth of our tragedy is deep, dark and awful. The height of blessings and support we receive from others truly help buoy us out of the dark. Do we still fall in to that deep darkness of grief? Yes, we do, but the height of everyone’s support and blessings still helps to lift us out when we do. Love to Heaven….    

 

The Weight of Grief

Sometimes the weight of grief is unknown until a moment, day or event passes. This is how it was for me this past weekend when my middle child made his First Communion.

In the weeks leading up to the event, daily life had me running to baseball practices and games, working the book fair, submitting my writing to different sites, gaining some new opportunities (stay tuned for more about that!) and even a trip for myself to Urgent Care. It left me little time to mull over the latest milestone that was about to be reached. This was probably a blessing.

Lately I have been referring to the “beginning” or “early days” in my writing. As I wrote in last week’s post, my journey is forever changing and evolving. When I look back to the early days, immediately after losing Christian, and even the years that followed, and compare it to now I can see true evolution. In the past if I had been preoccupied leading up to a big event, the aftermath would have left me completely depleted. Over time, however, I have processed and experienced the pain that goes along with my living sons experiencing things their brother never got to.

Anthony’s Communion was beautiful and we are so very proud of him. It was also the quintessential depiction of joy and pain existing together in the moment. Our family was seated in the very first pew. As I watched my eight year old enter the church, hands folded dutifully as prayer hands should be, pride rushed through me. Love poured out of me and a smile graced my face.

As the mass continued on and mention was made of those who are deceased, the weight of grief fell. It fell hard. The storm of sadness moved in and instantly fat tears began to drop. For a little while it made the sunshine of joy invisible. The sun remained there, it just became clouded over by the storm that came rolling through. And such is life.

Anthony’s big moment approached and he was excited to receive his First Communion. In his eyes the warmth of the sun reached me. The storm had passed. The day continued and all had a good time.

The weight of the grief I had been carrying around, presumably for the weeks leading up to the event. was only truly felt on the day after it. I awoke with a surprising amount of relief. This was a revelation for me. The physical, emotional and mental relief so evident that I could not ignore it.

It brought me back to just a year ago. Last June Christian’s friends moved up from Elementary School to Middle School. In the weeks leading up to the ceremony, he was remembered and honored in different ways. At the actual moving up ceremony a single red balloon was attached to an empty chair in memory of my beautiful child. This is a gift that all grieving mothers wish to be given.

Again we see the juxtaposition of joy and pain existing together. My gratitude is greater than words for all of these thoughtful gestures. They also were a painful reminder of the fact that Christian is not moving up to Middle School. With or without him being honored the deep sadness would have been present. It warms my heart that his classmates, their parents and the school, made remembering him a priority.

Life is not easy. We tell our children that when they are young. There is no easy fix and we are all due some pain in our lives. We cannot avoid these storms. We must learn how to get through them. The weight of grief has lifted for now. It will be back. I am sure of it. I will get through it again. I am also sure of that. Love to Heaven…

Broken Hearted But Not Broken

This afternoon as I glanced down at my phone for a quick reprieve I was deeply saddened to discover the news about Notre Dame. I inhaled a sharp breath causing my mother to ask anxiously, “What happened?” When I told her the news she was heartbroken but relieved. Bad news has known to be the worst news in our family.

She and I began to commiserate about the news of the fire, consider what might have been the cause and thank God that at least no one was hurt. Our conversation was cut short as we were snapped back to reality. “They’re back”, she said. The “they” meant my dad, my boys and my niece.

“They” had returned home from picking up my niece at school. I opened the car door and inquired about how her day had been. As though in tune with the world, she lamented over a troubling encounter with one of her friends in Kindergarten. We discussed it for a moment. At the age of six, injustices are easily washed away by the promise of sugar. My mother and I had hidden one hundred fifty Easter eggs for the children to find. When I explained that the “Easter bunny” left a note for them and hid eggs while we were all out, the excitement registered on their faces and in their voices.

The screeches were surely heard around the block. As they sprinted to the front door, I was nearly knocked over. Immediately the exclamations of discoveries could be heard. I brushed past my mom, anxious to see them on the hunt. She held my youngest niece in her arms and said, “I want to hear more of that report when they are done”. Confusion clouded my brain. It took me a minute to realize she meant the fire that had encapsulated Notre Dame.

Just a few moments prior I had been immersed in world history in the making. Today will be noted in History books for years to come. And still life carries on even when history is in the making. It brought me back to the days that will forever be in my own personal history book.

Time stopped today as flames licked a historic cathedral that will now forever be changed. The world carried on around it. Time stopped the day Christian gained his wings, forever changing our lives. The world carried on around us. The concept never ceases to amaze me. Things happen all day, every day, everywhere that are major monumental, events. Sometimes they affect a family and community. Sometimes they affect the world. Either way, the world carries on around it.

Photo Credit: Thibault Camus/AP

This is one of the most shocking aspects of child loss. It boggled my mind that the sun was still rising and setting, kids were starting a new school year, the leaves were changing. All of the things and events that had been natural occurrences at one time in my life were still going on around me, but my life had turned so unnatural.

The strangest realizations had me questioning my sanity. One day I realized I would never again take care of Christian when he was sick. He would never need to be nursed back to health with a proper dose of ginger ale after the stomach bug. No longer would I wait with baited breath as the thermometer read the temperature of his body. Obviously these are more menial tasks of motherhood but if he was able to be sick it meant his body was alive. It meant I could help “make things better”. My chance at that was through.

It was the daily routines that were most unnatural. Bath time with only 2 boys. The world carried on. Only 2 boys to coerce into brushing their teeth. Only 2 boys to corral into bed. Only 2 boys to kiss goodnight. Only 2 boys to imagine growing older. Only 2 boys to imagine carrying out all the hopes and dreams I had for them. And the world carried on. So unnatural, so changed.

Hopes and dreams were lost today, just as they were when Christian became an angel. Yet, children went to school and egg hunts were had. A historical structure survived a trauma but will forever be changed. It will be rebuilt, undoubtedly, but never the same. The rich historical background to include the fire that damaged it but did not decimate it. The world will carry on, just as it always does. Tomorrow the sun will come up. History will be changed and time will go on. Just as we are forever changed. We are not broken, just broken hearted. Love to heaven…

Helping Children Through Grief

In my last post I wrote about how to help a grieving family. It was focused more on the parents and the family as a whole. This week I thought I would provide some insight on how to help children who are grieving. My children were one and three when we lost Christian. Unfortunately we knew the loss would impact Anthony at his age. Many people were of the opinion that Nicky would not be affected as much since he was not yet two years old. As time goes on I am certain that this is not true.

The task of raising children who grow up with a sibling in Heaven is no easy feat. At their ages there were many questions about death and Heaven since they had no point of reference. When children are a little bit older they understand the concept of death more but Heaven is still elusive, even to adults.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says,

“Everyone, including children, must understand four basic concepts about death to grieve fully and come to terms with what has happened. Teens, and even adults, may have a full and rational understanding of death, yet still struggle to accept these basic concepts when faced with the death of a loved one.”

The four concepts we must understand are that death is irreversible, all life functions end at the time of death, everything that is alive dies and there are physical reasons for death.

  • Recently in our community a beautiful little girl gained her wings after 13 short years here on Earth. I do not know the family personally but I do know what occurs in the wake of losing a child, for the family and community. I do not, by any means claim to be a therapist, just a mother who is raising her children after trauma and loss.
  • While questions and answers will differ based on the age of grieving children, some things will not. The absolute most important piece of advice is to keep the door of communication open with a grieving child. Provide him or her with a safe environment in which they can openly discuss the person who has gone ahead to Heaven. Allow the grieving child to share his or her emotions.
  • I can’t speak to what this exactly looks like in a teenager. I would imagine just as with younger children, grief and confusion will be disguised behind other emotions. We had outbursts, uncommon behaviors, difficulty sleeping, regression and even survivor guilt with our children. Almost five years later we see anxiety and anger sometimes. We see sensitivity to certain triggers, not always obvious ones. For example my children still play “dead”, which haunts me, but is normal, age appropriate behavior for them.

    This brings me to my next point. As adults it can be so hard not to put our own anxieties on our children. The grieving child can be even more sensitive to this. The anxiety that arises within me when my boys “play dead” is because of my knowledge, experience and relationship to the word and all that I have lost. This is not how my children see it. They do not yet have the life knowledge, experience and understanding that I have. There is no need to add any more layers of sadness or anxiety onto their own grief.

    If, however, your child is experiencing anxiety about the finality of his or her own life or someone else’s, this is normal after an untimely death. Abigail Marks, PhD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in grief says, “See if you can find out more about their specific concerns and show that you take their feelings seriously. When kids feel reassured and understood, anxiety can begin to shrink”. After losing Christian we were advised to be very honest with our children. We even had a “standard family answer” so that we were all consistent about death. Again, this was age appropriate but we said, “Christian is in Heaven now but he will always be in our hearts and our memories”. We explained that him being in our hearts was the love we have for him and will always have for him. The book, The Invisible String, reinforces this idea. It is geared towards younger children, explaining that we are connected to all of the people we love with an invisible string, even those who are in Heaven.

    My husband and I are firm believers that Christian’s energy is still all around us. He was an extremely persistent child his whole life with us and he continues to exert his persistence from Heaven. We are grateful for this. Through odd occurrences, hearts, pennies and dreams, he has proven that he will always be with us. It will never be the way we hoped, but our relationship does continue. It was important that our children understand that too. They have a continuous relationship with their oldest brother. He often shows himself on important days, regular days, almost every day. They even dream of him. He is a part of this family and always will be. Every day we speak his name at one point or another. They talk about him to their friends and they carry on his memory, just as we do.

    We have been very careful not to let Christian overshadow our living children. We take our cues from them. They have said things like, “Why is everything about Christian?” or “I don’t want to talk about him right now”. That’s okay. It’s normal. We know that means for a little while after they express these feelings we need to monitor how much we speak about Christian, allowing them to bring him up in conversation. Again, we cannot let our anxiety of him being forgotten override the health of our family.

    While we have learned a lot of this on our own as grief is individual to each person and family, we have also worked with mental health professionals since the start of our grief journey. We are blessed with some of the most amazing people in our lives. We thank Christian for this. We believe he put these “angels on Earth” in our path. Their guidance and professional opinion definitely makes a world of difference.

    If you are sensing that your child has some emotions inside but is hesitant to let them out there are a few things I suggest you can do with him or her:

    Get them moving – Here in New York Spring has sprung! Go for a hike, a walk, play a game of basketball, have a game of catch, even ask them to help you complete a physical task – anything to get them moving. Allowing them to choose and giving them control over the activity will encourage them to open up. My son took Tae Kwon Do for two years and it helped him immensely. We even put a punching bag in the basement as a means for him to work out his emotions physically. 

    “It turns out that exercise can be an important coping tool to deal with grief and loss, whether it’s the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship.”

     

    Give them a journal If you have a child who is maybe a little more introverted or does not share feelings as easily, journaling can be a great option. Journaling does not have to be limited to the written word. Art journaling is a great way to process emotions.

    “According to grief experts, the task of reconstructing your personal self-narrative is critical in the healing process. A grief journal will provide you with a venue for expression without fear of being judged”.

    Encourage music in their lives – Listening, playing and dancing to music are all amazing ways to process emotions. When we listen to certain music, play certain instruments such as the drums or dance around, we are stimulating both sides of the brain. 

    Bilateral stimulation… [which] has been demonstrated extensively in studies to create a greater connection between your mind and your body.”

    Provide them with creative experiences – Ask if they would like to enroll in an art class, take a painting class with them, provide them with art journal prompts (Pinterest has tons!) All of this helps them to get their feelings out and work through them. Emphasize that it is not the end product that is most meaningful but the process.

    “When you are unable to express yourself, but you desire emotional release, making art may help you to do it”.

    Grief is a powerful emotion. Loss, especially when a death is untimely, can be very disturbing. Be patient with yourself as you process these emotions alongside your child. Parents will undoubtedly have an increase in their own fears and strong emotions. It is healthy for your child to see you working through this. While I do not advise voicing your fears surrounding how fragile life is, as your child has learned this firsthand, I do encourage you to share your emotions, memories and age appropriate thoughts. For example you may say, “I was thinking about your friend Christian today. Remember how much fun we had the day we all went to the waterpark?” This may spark a conversation with your child, allowing their feelings to seep out. You may also say, “I went to visit Christian’s family today while you were in school. I feel sad whenever I see them.” These are simple statements but ones that your child can relate to. If they see you modelling your own feelings and that your emotions are there too, they will be more accepting of their own. Grief can be very strong and sometimes that can be scary to a child. Through the parent voicing his or her own emotions, it normalizes them.

    It feels harsh and unfair that some children are exposed to death at such early ages. We have no control over what happens in our lives, but we can control our reactions. Helping our children learn coping skills when encountering large emotions is a lesson that they will value for the rest of their lives. It is horrible to be learned through the death of a family member or friend but it is something that will always be useful.

    How To Talk About Death To Your Child –

    https://www.purewow.com/family/how-to-explain-death-to-a-child?amphtml=true

    Dealing with untimely loss is difficult. As a parent children turn to us for answers we don’t have. There are many times I have said to my children, “I don’t have an answer to your question. It is something I wonder about too”. It’s okay to do that. Parents, be gentle on yourself and do your best. If you feel that you are having trouble answering questions and handling a loss, seek help. Professionals don’t have all the answers either but they have more experience than we do dealing with traumatic situations.

    Above all, open lines of communication are the most important. If that means you have to play a video game with your child to get him to talk – do it! Just let him or her know you are here to listen. Sometimes that is all they want. Listening can be harder than you think. Innately, we want to fix our child if he or she is hurting. There are some things we cannot fix. There are some journeys each person has to take on their own. Grief is one of them. We can walk alongside and provide support, but not fix it. Love to heaven…