November is Child Grief Awareness month in which many community helpers help to spread the awareness of childhood grief. As a mental health professional who also lost three significant loved ones before I turned 20, this month is significant for me. It was not long after my mom’s death when I was 19 that I decided that I had been given my grief journey to help others. During the month of November, I choose to be the one wearing blue, talking to people about the facts of childhood grief, and trying to educate my peers and anyone who will listen about how childhood grief is different than adult grief. Therefore, it will be my goal to use the month of November to help my readers understand different aspects of childhood grief.
On the National Alliance of Grieving Children website, one resource article outlines some differences of childhood grief from adult grief and they are as follows:
- Grief is normal
- Children should be told the truth about the loss even when it is hard
- Each child, even in the same family, will have a different reaction to a loss depending on the relationship with the loved one
- Grieving children often feel alone and misunderstood
- Children will experience the loss throughout their lifetime
- Grieving children can experience growth as a result of a death when they have consistent and loving adults around them.
In this post, I’m going to focus on telling children the truth about the loss. When my dad was in the hospital the 10 months before he died, he experienced many medical complications. He had three heart attacks, his organs failed, and he had many minor procedures to try to make him comfortable. When I look back at this time, I am proud of my mom for taking the time to keep me involved in what was going on with my dad’s declining health. She and I would have age appropriate discussions about what was happening and what decisions she may have to make. Throughout this whole 10 month experience, we did it together as we had through my entire life with my dad’s health. The three of us had always been together whenever my dad was sick or in the hospital, and this was no different.
When it was time to let my dad rest in peace, I had been prepared as to what would happen and why we had to make the decision to let him go. The day was still horrible, and parts I remember clearly and the rest my memory has blocked out. But one emotion I did not have was confused. I knew what had happened to him and that his body was tired. I was still incredibly sad and heartbroken but I had comfort in knowing what had happened and this brought me peace.
I sometimes get asked about telling children who have loved ones die by suicide. I still tell them age appropriate honesty is always best knowing that is hard to do in this situation. Parents and guardians are the expert of their own children, so I do not try to give advice of the right words to use except to tell them the truth.
I hope that in this month of November you will have a moment to educate yourself on childhood grief. It is a subject I’m always willing to step on my soap box and discuss and I find joy in knowing that I can make a difference in a child’s life by increasing awareness of childhood grief. Below you will find a link to the National Alliance of Grieving Children website so you can start your own knowledge journey.