I meant to start this blog by writing daily. We’ll get to time management another day…
We had a friend pass. No, not covid. But Covid sure didn’t make anything easier.
But grief… You’d think by now in life, one would have gained more understanding of how to cope, how to feel and share the emotions, how to comfort loved ones… I have very nasty words for whoever first “declared” that autism = lessen, dampened, lack of emotions. No. I feel it all. I feel it all at once. I feel my pain, his last moments, my husband’s sorrow, my friends’ fears, his family’s emptiness, the world’s now missing light. Sometimes it gets to be so much that I can only stare. I don’t see anything external or hear anything. I’m too busy reading through all my thoughts and checking and re-checking everything that can be done.
We’ve all heard the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance… Can we feel all of them at once?
As with everything in the world. Parenting puts such a spin on it. How do you tell your child about a death in their world? How do you help them understand when they are so little? How do you support them when you do not yet know how to support yourself?
Well, here’s my best attempt at this- one of the hardest parenting problems. And not at all where I thought I would be starting in this journey:
Show Your Emotions
Emotions are not something to hide or shame or be embarrassed by. Emotions will not scar your children. In fact, just the opposite is true. Share your emotions to teach them that emotions are natural and okay. Expressing one’s emotions means that you can create connections with others. It means that you can be your real self. We need to model this for our children.
So, we cry in front of them. We tell them how we feel and we tell them why. “Daddy is sad because he died”. We are sad right now. It is a hard time for us right now. We will not be sad forever, because we will keep him in our heart.
Mine are too little for me to tell their full comprehension of all these big, complicated emotions and feelings. But, I know they hear me. I know they hear my try to be there for them. I know because my daughter cuddled me the next morning after that last conversation and told me I was in her heart.
Tell the truth and tell the whole truth. We tell the kids what happened at their age-appropriate level. Hiding the information from them, like hiding your feelings from them will only lead to confusion and possible fear. And you know they can tell when you are out of whack. Let’s show our children the respect they deserve by not pretending everything is hunky-dory when it is so very much not.
My 2 year old knows Mommy and Daddy are feeling sad right now. She knows a loved one has died. I am sure that those words do not mean much to her yet. I am sure she is young enough that she will not remember this time.. or him.. He will just be Mommy and Daddy’s memory. A spot at our family dinners that we tell her used to be filled with him.
My 4 year old knows we are sad because of a death. She kinda gets death because, well, every SINGLE Disney movie has dead parents. She is worried about seeing his daughter, as she knows we only see her with him. She is scared to lose her friend. She comes in and out of understanding of not seeing him again. She know that we will do what we can to see her friend again.
Answer Their Questions
There are probably going to be a lot. It is good to answer what you can. Why… Where… What… When.. Let them know that there is room for questions and their wonderings. Let them have the time and space to process. They may have a thought then. It may be the next time they see your tears. It may be next month, I don’t know.
And- it is OKAY to say “I don’t know”. It goes hand in hand with being honest and sharing your emotions- parents/caregivers do not need to be superheroes. I’m not sure about you, but I DEFINITELY do not have all the answers! I might learn more as time goes and be able to share more, but for now I tell my little girl that I am not sure. That I know pieces. That I will tell her what I can.
Make Their World Less Scary
Again, this all combines together. When our children are left without the answers or the full answers they need, they create their own truth. If I left it at “he was sick”, what would her mind create in this current pandemic world? What would she combine with her knowledge of “sick” and of Disney parents being dead and Mommy being in the mid of allergy season? God, it’s terrifying to think of what she might imagine of what might become her reality.
So I tell her all the details of how it is different. I let my mind go wild and racing down paths of all the possible and all the impossible. This is probably one of the major benefits of how my mind works. I can see it all in a matter of moments. So I see what she might see and I can do my best to head her off before she has a chance to go careening down those paths herself.
- No, he didn’t have “the sickness”.
- No, mommy and daddy aren’t going to get sick that way.
- Yes, everyone else is safe right now.
- Yes, your friend still has her mommy.
- Yes, we are all still together.
- Yes, we are sad now.
- No, we will not be sad forever.
- We might not see him again, but we’ll have him in our family forever, and that’s special.