As parents, all we want for our kids is for them to grow up to be happy and healthy adults that live a fulfilled life. There’s literally nothing we wouldn’t do to shield our kids from pain and suffering, but as much as we try, unfortunately loss, grief and sadness are inevitable realities for all our children (as they are for us) at some point in their life and the younger the children are the more challenging it is for them to understand and process a tragic event or very difficult situation.
Let me add here, I am not a Grief Counsellor, a Psychologist or Psychiatrist - I am just a mother who has lost a children and wanted to be able to explain this loss to my children, so the "memory" of my daughter is always part of our family and we can talk openly about Charlotte and her story.
I know personally, as a parent, we have really been challenged with having to explain the death of one of our twins to both her surviving twin and our other (younger) daughter too. Child loss continues to be a taboo topic in society and that’s because for many it’s unthinkable and just too painful to address. But as bereaved parents, keeping the memory alive of our babies who are no longer here is really important to us. When people ask me about her [Charlotte] I feel a real sense of peace at the opportunity to speak about her and so thankful to that person for being brave enough to talk to me about her but also the fact others remember her makes my heart happy.
Unless you know, you don’t know! And you wouldn’t wish membership to this “club” on anyone. Losing a child changes you in ways the pre-loss version of yourself couldn’t comprehend. Everything is turned inside-out and upside down. Babies aren’t meant to die, we [parents] aren’t meant to have conversations about cremation vs burial and how to (or not to) approach a funeral. For me, leaving the hospital and leaving her in the morgue was the most difficult thing I will ever do in my life, it still haunts me to this day.
But, like so many other families, losing a child affects more that just us parents, it fundamentally affects the siblings “left” behind and talking to these children about their brother or sister who is no longer here is a confronting and painful prospect but one we know needs to be done. The entire family needs the opportunity to process difficult situations, and all our children (living or not) are part of the fabric of our families.
But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I believe that children need to be able to deal with this reality in constructive ways that aren’t too overwhelming or scary. In doing my research for this blog, I came across a really great article (reference below) that gives us (parents) some tips to follow when we are speaking about loss and absence effectively. My favourite tips are;
- Tell the truth in a simple, direct way. Telling the sugar coated version of the situation can foster resentment and mistrust with the parents.
- If the child is quite young, it may help to use pictures, storybooks, toys and play to explain what has happened and how they feel.
- Don’t pretend that you are not sad – express your feelings to your child. This can help your child feel able to express their own feelings.
But there are lots more that are great too. I recommend you read this article (link in references)
Even though we, as adults, might be consumed by this grief, our children may not. This is because kids deal with grief and trauma differently to us adults and I think it’s really important to understand this and not place unrealistic expectations on our children. Our children may not stay in the grief cycle for very long and may come in and out of it, even playing two minutes after they were crying hysterically.
We know BIG FEELINGS are really hard for kids to understand and deal with and you can expect some acting out and some “bad” behaviour during this time as you and your children come to terms with your new reality. They may need/ want extra comfort, even wanting to sleep with you is common, especially with younger children. The other, rather surprising, thing we may see is them compensate or feel responsible for us as their parents, we may see them making excuses for us or doing more to help us.
I think, for me, the key takeaway is don’t try downplaying your grief and try (as best you can) to engage with our kids and open the dialogue about grief and difficult situations. Life, unfortunately, isn’t always smooth sailing and we can’t protect them from everything. It is important to remain open and willing to talk about the various experiences of loss and grief. As children grow and develop, they will have different reactions to grief. We can’t take it (pain & sadness) away but we can be a source of comfort in difficult times for our children, that’s really anyone [including yourself] can ask of us.
Finally, there’s myriad of helpful resources and organisations if you’re really struggling with this situation or even your own grief. The old adage – you need to fit your own oxygen mask before you fit anyone else’s is also true in grief and difficult situations. if we aren’t “good” then how can we help them. We don’t need to be ok with it [the situation] or hide your emotions or feelings, we are just trying to show them ways to process their feelings in a constructive way that doesn’t scare them.
This stuff is bloody tough and we will never do it “perfectly” as there isn’t a perfect way, but there is your way! Someone once told me that, “regardless of the situation, you are enough, you are exactly what they need and no one (absolutely no one) will ever love them like you do!”
Resources and References (for VICTORIA, but there would be similar for other states too):
- Your GP (doctor)
- Your local community health centre, hospital or palliative care service
- A trained bereavement counsellor
- NURSE-ON-CALL Tel. 1300 60 60 24 – for expert health information and advice (24 hours, 7 days)
- Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement – bereavement counselling and support services Tel. (03) 9265 2100 or 1800 642 066
- Kids Helpline – telephone counselling Tel. 1800 551 800 (24 hours, 7 days)
- Lifeline – crisis support and suicide prevention services Tel. 13 11 14 (24 hours, 7 days)
- Parentline Victoria – 8 am to 12 midnight, 7 days a week, Tel. 13 22 89
- SuicideLine Victoria Tel. 1300 651 251 – for counselling, crisis intervention, information and referral (24 hours, 7 days)
- Griefline provide a helpline Tel. 1300 845 745 (6am - midnight AEST) and online forums for those dealing with grief.