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…
With the fear of the Coronavirus growing, my anxiety is swelling. I have become the person who furiously scrolls through social media searching for updates. My phone is constantly in close proximity so I can check on any new developments provided from my boys’ school. The uncertainty is percolating through my physical self and is causing headaches.
Without a doubt we can all name someone, or more than one person, who fits this description. The difference is that I’m usually doing the naming, not the one being named. In fact until yesterday I was still of the opinion that everything was being blown out of proportion. This state of pure apprehension is not usually a dominant part of me.
During my meditation this morning, it became clear to me why this virus has captivated my mental state. My body is identifying these thoughts, emotions and fears with the trauma of Christian’s death. Pervasive uncertainty is a defining characteristic of my immediate post child loss life. All certainty was robbed from me. In a matter of moments August 28th 2014 became the day that would forever mark the divide of the before and after in my life.
The morning of August 28th 2014 started off just as so many did, and still do. We had eggs for breakfast accompanied by laughter, tears, sibling arguments, hugs and kisses, brushing teeth and getting dressed. Less than 12 hours later all of that would become completely irrelevant. Our lives transformed into the shocking unknown.
On a much smaller scale this past Wednesday paralleled that terrifying day for me. The morning started much in the same way. There was breakfast, laughter, tears, sibling arguments, hugs and kisses, brushing teeth and getting dressed. I was aware of the Coronoavirus and the general threats of it but we were pretty much business as usual in my home. In the afternoon I headed to school to prepare for the upcoming book fair in a few weeks. Although the district had already alerted parents that school was preemptively closed the week after Spring Break, I still believed that the students would be in school until the scheduled break at the beginning of April.
By the time I left the building that afternoon a Coronvirus case had been confirmed in the nearby town. The college in the next town over announced closure, SUNY classes went completely online and a few neighboring school districts announced closures beginning the following day. The toilet paper crisis had begun but I still wasn’t concerned about that.
After school talk on the playground was centered around the Coronavirus but mainly in a mocking tone. Overall the general consensus of the moms was that everyone was making too much of it. Hours later my husband and I sat on the couch and as President Trump addressed the nation my panic began to rise. There was change in the air. While the change was not as sudden as the trauma of losing Christian, it still felt jarring.
The next morning I found myself at the grocery store with numerous other people who were reacting to the fear. As I wandered around as aimlessly as a blowing leaf, the uncertainty was palpable. Toilet paper was nowhere to be found. I already knew that it was sold out on Amazon because that was one of the first things I looked for during Trump’s speech!
Half of the people in the grocery store listlessly pushed around their carts with a dazed look, as I did. The other half had what appeared to be detailed lists of what would help them to survive a possible quarantine. Checkout lines grew longer and longer and snaked through the aisles. Two hundred dollars and two hours later I returned home, still feeling unsure of my level of preparedness.
The hysteria was like a fire in my belly. The grocery store merely stoked that fire. My parents cancelled their flight to see my sister in Florida, the middle school play was postponed and the weekly Friday Morning Opening at our elementary school was first closed to parents, then was postponed until further notice. The state of my world, changing by the moment, nothing certain.
It all brought me back to that horrific day, that horrific time. As I watched my son lying on the garage floor, helplessness and fear washed over my body. No parent ever imagines themselves in that position. I also never imagined we would be in a place where schools would be closing and the possibility of quarantining was a reality.
When Christian passed away there was nothing certain left in my world. I had just witnessed the absolute most devastating and horrific sight and event. Where I had once built a future for this beautiful boy, it was all gone. The words I imagined my adult self speaking to my growing son, the experiences I dreamt of sharing with him were all gone. It was tragedy’s cruelest magic trick. Here one moment, gone the next. One moment he was walking up the driveway and the next moment he was on the floor of a garage. He was gone in every way but his body.
The hysteria, the fear, the uncertainty – I’ve been here before. This is all too familiar. My central nervous system is having a hard time distinguishing the urgency and uncertainty of the two situations right now. It is definitely wreaking some havoc on me. Fortunately, I’ve had some experience working through traumatic, uncertain times. So, I am going to utilize the tools and coping mechanisms I have learned to minimize the effects. You can find me breathing, meditating, writing and reading. Oh there will also be some mindless TV in there too, I am sure. This is stressful but we will get through it. I know because I have gotten through stressful times before. Love to Heaven…
Sometimes it takes seeing someone as we were to realize how much we have changed. Let me explain.
I recently met a mother who lost her child two months ago. Let’s call her Nancy. She found me through a mutual friend who knew of my story.
Nancy is raw. Only two months have passed and she is in a place where hope is no where to be found. It hurts to breathe. It hurts to think. It hurts to live.
Shock has infiltrated every cell of her being but nothing is worse than the pain. It invades like an army claiming its territory. The physicality of it is debilitating.
I take the liberty of speaking on Nancy’s behalf because she has shared these emotions with me. Furthermore, these emotions mirror who I was as a newly bereaved mom. She is who I was.
Many of her emotions and experiences are who newly bereaved moms are in general. As she shared with our grief group what her daily life looks like, we all uttered phrases like, “Remember that?” and “The same thing happened to me”.
None of our stories are exactly the same but there are common threads in all of our experiences. Just as there are commonalities in mothering children, there are commonalities in grieving children.
Each of us finds different aspects of grief harder to deal with than others. No one was able to understand the physical severance Nancy felt when her daughter left her. It was so strong that it caused her to faint. After she spoke to other grieving moms she was validated that grief, is in fact, extremely physical.
Over time, physical symptoms do not completely disappear but they appear less frequently. Time stretches farther between each debilitating episode. I never believed that it would be that way for me. The heartbreak was so eviscerating that I was blinded to how my heart, lungs and body would ever function again.
Eventually our grief leads us back to active mothering and connection. We build and experience a new relationship with our child. Our means of communication change. Our expressions of love change. Our connections change, but the love never does. It continues to be given and received by both mother and angel. When we reach this part of our journey, the pain eases a bit more. We are assured that our angels are still present. It truly helps in finding ways to carry the pain. The “new normal” sharpens into focus.
My journey has taken me to places that are a distance away from where Nancy is today, but I walked in her shoes. My feet covered the ground she is walking. No one can walk that ground for us but they can walk it with us. Joining together, holding space for each other’s pain and speaking about the commonalities we all share can help us, no matter what we are goin through. Love to Heaven….
It has been months since I last sat at my computer and wrote. There is not one simple explanation as to why that is. Today marks five years since Christian ran ahead to Heaven. These last few months feel as though I am wading through murky waters.
Although I know in my heart that Christian is always present, and I continue to receive signs from him, the comfort that this used to provide me seems to have become clouded. Where my life’s purpose of helping others post child loss was confirmed almost daily, it now seems to have completely become invalidated. The waves of grief have been crashing over me stronger and stronger. Their strength has robbed me of mine.
Recently while my boys were looking through old videos they found one of Christian from his fifth birthday. The backdrop was our cozy living room. Christian bounced up and down excitedly as he proudly declared that he was five years old. Behind him stood a vibrant Christmas tree, decorated with glistening lights, well loved ornaments and primary colored balloons. In the middle of the tree was a “Happy Birthday” banner.
His fifth birthday was momentous for so many reasons. Five years is a significant passage of time. Christian’s birth set a series of changes into motion for our family. He made us parents, he became an older brother, then an oldest brother. Over those five years we had evolved into a family of five. My destiny as a mother of three boys had been fulfilled. While I would have loved to mother a girl, I couldn’t love my three boys any more.
Christian was our firstborn and this meant he pioneered the parenting road for us. His first smile, laugh and word made our hearts balloon so big we thought they would explode. Our love for him grew each day. He also taught us the necessity of discipline. His mischievous personality produced tears, sleepness nights and uncontrollable worries, not to be outweighed by the love though.
The day he turned five we gave him a huge birthday card, which he opened half naked while standing on the dining room table. If that isn’t an image I don’t know what is! That was him though. He did everything full of love, life and passion. He had an amazing sense of humor and loved to be silly. When he was happy, it was 100% and when he was mad it was 100%. He continues this trend as an angel. His love comes through 100% and them some. His presence is so strong that people who didn’t even know him have felt him.
I will never know why we were chosen to be Christian’s parents. It is a gift that we were able to enjoy for far too short of a time. There is never a day that goes by when I don’t think of him. Never a day goes by when I don’t miss him and never a day goes by when I don’t say his name. This pain and heartbreak is a part of me. This grief has taught me just how happiness and deep, dark pain can exist alongside each other.
He is missed beyond measure. I am still not sure how I will go on living the rest of my life, each day without Christian. He is a special light. Tomorrow will be 5 years and 1 day and the pain will still be there. I will continue on, all the while knowing that the hole in my heart will never heal. I will also know as my son Anthony said, “You still have us, mom”. I will thank God that I have Anthony and Nicky. That is what I can do, Thank God for my living angels and remember, love and honor Christian. Love to Heaven…
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…
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….
I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sorry that you have to see your mom suffer through losing her grown son. I’m sorry that you have to watch as his wife struggles to carry on each day without her best friend. I’m sorry that you are witnessing your nieces and nephew grieving their father. I’m sorry that your brother is forever gone physically from your family.
I know that your heart is broken to think that the man who could light up a room with a smile will never have that chance again. You miss his larger than life personality and booming laugh. His story telling skills that seemed effortless but always brought the story to life, forever silenced. You miss all this, yet you feel you must be strong for your mom, sister-in-law and nieces and nephew. His beautiful family suffers each day. As time goes on they learn how to live without him but sadness is at the surface.
You go on, learning how to live without him but sadness is interwoven into your very being. You see his spirit live on not only in his children but your children. You speak about their uncle and they speak about him too. Memories are as vibrant as if he were still here, which he is. It is unbelievable to you that just a year ago your brother’s radiant smile and large personality were present at family gatherings.
Supporting family members after a major loss is exhausting and draining. You are reeling from the loss and yet you want to offer strength and comfort to those around you. I don’t envy your position.
Most people are aware of the strain a loss puts on a mother, wife and children. When it comes to siblings, especially grown siblings, they are not as in touch with the deep devastation that remains after the loss.
I see you and I see how devastated you are too. Every happy occasion is tinged with the grief. You are open to expressing your emotions but don’t want to overwhelm others around you as you know they, too, have intense feelings.
I am here for you, my friend. I will listen to you tell stories, happy and sad. I will dry your tears. I will echo your smiles. I will be your support when you have none left to give to anyone else. I am here to help lift you up. I will always send love to you and to Heaven.
This Sunday is the first fundraiser. We are not changing the world with our little foundation but we are bringing help, relief and joy to people who need it. In the spirit of Christian’s legacy we are trying to be a “Rainbow in somebody else’s cloud”.
The mission of Love From Heaven is to provide resources, support and hope to families who experience unexpected child loss. We also memorialize Christian’s love of learning with a scholarship program.
We were, and are, beyond fortunate to be surrounded by people who did all of this for us. It is time for us to pay it forward.
Each day there is a positivity and light around us. Some days we need to search harder than others for it. It is there.
It can be as simple as a stranger’s smile to as grand as a community joining together to build a Memorial playground. Let’s keep it going by contributing in any way we can.
My family has seen what we hope to be our darkest days. It helps us to appreciate the tiniest bit of light. It also inspires us to create light, just as our community did for us.
If you have a minute check out the website for Love From Heavenor visit us on Instagram @lovefromheaveninc. And as always love to Heaven…
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…
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.
“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.
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…