The past several years in our home have been filled with so much joy, so many blessings, and so much to be thankful for. And – they have also been years full of grief, pain, loss, and deep sadness. Many times over the past several years we have had to discuss what we should tell our kids about deaths in the family, chronic illnesses, and losses untouchable.
While we have chosen to protect our kids from some of the ugly realities of this world – in general we land in a space where we want to openly share our grief with our children. In my experience kids in general are more aware of our emotional states than we may give them credit for – and the likelihood that they already know something is wrong before we even sit down to talk with them is high. I want to create a space in my home and in my relationships with my kids where all things are experienced with trust and honesty. I want to open the door to many years of “ugly” conversations and ugly tears – because my friends the deeper and uglier the pain – the greater, the more beautiful the sharing of that pain.
Of course this sharing must be done with caution when our children are little – it is a fine line between keeping them aware of what is going on, while protecting them from the details that may be too much for them to process due to their brain development. And this line is not a solid line in the sand – some children may be able to, and may even need more details, while some children may just need the basics – wherever your child falls on that spectrum it is important to respect their emotional intelligence and their own capacity for understanding. And wisdom, oh dear parent – this process requires wisdom beyond what I am capable of – and for this I suggest praying, talking with your partner, and making the decision based on your child’s need for information – not your own need to share. **Please- do find someone you can share all the details with if that is what you need to process your grief. Sharing our grief with our children is a way to love on them and prepare them for the real losses and pain they will experience in the real world – but is in no way a replacement for talking out your grief with a trusted peer or counselor.**
Before I leave you I want to give you an insight on what this sharing of grief looks like in our family. My grandfather died this past January tragically in a house fire. When I received the call I was not ready to process this tragedy with my kids – so I simply told them that I needed to be alone for a few minutes – when I was ready to talk with them all I told them was that I was sad because something bad happened. They knew I wasn’t ready for more details and that was the end of that conversation – for months actually.
The memorial for my grandfather took place nearly six months later and we were unable to attend. I decided that I needed a way to grieve, to say goodbye and I couldn’t figure out how. Walking with my husband and contemplating what to do I decided to make a cross from some items I’d found while we were walking and toss them in the river as a way to say goodbye. That is when I knew it was time to talk with my son about what was going on, I asked him to come sit with me and explained to him that my grandpa had died (I did not include any details and he did not ask, and for now the cause of his death is a detail I will protect him from.) I asked my son if he would like to come with me to place the memorial cross in the river to help me remember and say goodbye, and we walked down to the river. He placed his arm around me and said that he was sorry, he watched sweetly and from a distance as I placed the cross in the water, he reminded me of the blessing of heaven, he had me yell to the sky “Thank you for being my grandpa!” – he gave me a stick to keep forever to remember my grandpa, because I had thrown my stick cross in the river. He got it – he understood – he consoled me – he saw my grief – he saw that it’s ok to cry – that it’s ok to hold on – that it’s ok to let go – that it’s ok to share in all of those emotions.
When we walked back from the river we went on with our day as normal – or grief had found it’s place. Yet still we share it in. A few weeks later I was at my mom’s house looking at a few pictures of my grandpa – I did not cry, I did not show signs of sadness – yet he knew. He simply placed his hand on my back and patted it. And this my friends is a type of sympathetic understanding that can only come of shared grief. It’s hard, and it is scary to share our grief with our children – but trust me the benefits far outweigh the fear. I will continue having the hard conversations with my children and inviting them in to my grief – and it is my greatest hope that as they grow they will share their own pain, grief and ugliness with me.