Love, loss, death and dying are not unique to this past year, though perhaps they have been magnified.
But especially for a child, the loss of a parent or other dear family member dominates their horizon. For them, the context of a global pandemic doesn’t matter much: A loved one is gone; someone is missing.
It can be hard to know what to say and how to help a hurting child. I believe four considerations can help us.
An attentive and empathetic adult who recognizes and responds to the child’s grief is a significant help. Such an adult should be aware that:
- Grief is felt and manifests in a variety of ways and can be wide-ranging.
- The experience of grief is unique to each individual.
- Time limits do not apply, and grief may reappear at the “mile markers” of life.
- The grieving child may feel anxious, fearful, or angry. They may not recognize that their emotions are connected to the loss of a dear one.
- Grief is sometimes hidden, yet nonetheless painful.
“The death of a family member, friend or other significant person is a lifelong loss for children,” says the website childrengrieve.org. “It is normal for children to miss the person who died and to experience grief that might come and go with different levels of intensity for some time after the death.”
PATIENCE AND CARE
Research shows that adult caregivers who offer a consistent loving presence and provide a safe environment to express grief can help a grieving child’s well-being.
“Research has shown that one of the top indicators of how well children will do after the death of a significant person in their life is directly related
to the type of relationship they have with the surviving adult(s) in their lives and how well these adults are able to cope with their own grief,” says the website.
LISTENING AND ATTENTION
The National Alliance for Grieving Children says the support of
the “cape-less crusaders who have powers of listening and empathy, who can have courageous conversations, boldly express support and are kind to someone in grief” can assist a child in learning to express their loss and move forward in their life. The alliance’s NAGC Hero Toolkit, is available for download at newyorklife.com/assets/foundation/docs/pdfs/nagc-hero-toolkit.pdf.
Without denying the very real pain of a grieving child, the promise of resurrection and the hope of heaven can provide great consolation. The activity workbook for children, “Time to Say Good-bye,” by Sr. Kathleen Glavich, SND offers helpful ways for caregivers to “present the mystery of death and its rituals in ways children can grasp.”
Faced with the grief of a child, caring adults can feel overwhelmed and ill-equipped. Assistance and resources are available to help the child process their grief and go on in life.
The National Alliance for Grieving Children offers a number of resources. In particular, the Hero Toolkit referenced above offers both perspectives for an adult caregiver and activities to engage the child.
Other activity-oriented resources include:
- The Diocese of Orange Office of Family Life: Bereavement & Grief Support | The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange (rcbo.org).
- The National Alliance for Grieving Children About Childhood Grief (childrengrieve.org).