Grief Myths and Realities

There are at least three prominent myths in society when it comes to grief; while these are applicable to all ages, I’ll focus here on children.

Myth 1: A Child’s grief proceeds in a predictable, orderly manner.

We generally like things to be predictable, but they seldom are. No two children are alike, or grieve in the same way. Even in the same family. We must meet each child wherever they are in their grief journey. It just isn’t a smooth path; there are ups and downs.

Myth 2: There comes a time when a grieving child will reach closure with his or her grief.

The process of mourning is a journey of a lifetime. Will it always remain as difficult as the first few months or years? No, the pain will get softer, but it will return from time to time. It may happen when we hear a song they loved, or visit a  familiar vacation site, or discover a scrapbook they kept, or look at a photo on the shelf. It’s bitter sweet as fond memories return along with a sense of sadness. It’s also bitter sweet as life milestones pass.

Myth 3: If the death occurred when the child was an infant and too young to remember the actual death, it won’t have an impact later.

As a child matures and passes through certain milestones the feelings of grief often flow in. Other friends have dads that cheer at games, moms that bake cookies for bake sales, brothers or sisters to wait at the bus stop with, parents to explain body changes, to go to school dances, graduation ceremonies, engagements, weddings, etc…

Aunts, Uncles and adult friends that are close to a grieving family can be real assets. Parents of grieving children should cultivate such relationships for their children, and look to these family members for their own emotional support when needed.

There are three realities to be faced if we adults – moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, good friends – must work with to help our children in their grief journeys.

Reality 1: Before the grief journey can begin, we must gently help the child to understand that the loved one has died and will not return. We will handle this differently with a 4 year old than with an 8 year old. Children can only cope with what they know. If you need help with this, consult a grief couselor or other professional.

Reality 2: In order to heal, the child must be allowed and encouraged to share the many feelings that accompany loss. It may seem odd or even cruel, but moving towards the pain associated with loss is the way to healing. Protecting our children and ourselves from pain can drive the feelings underground and result in depression and negative coping behaviors.

Reality 3: Keeping the memory person who died alive contributes to the healing. Fading memories worry many children because, falsely, they believe that perhaps their love was not strong enough. A few ideas to help:

  • Create for, or with them, scrapbooks
  • Visit familiar vacation places and relive stories
  • Celebrate birthdays – eat their favorite food on this day, tell their favorite jokes, look at photos, watch home videos
  • Visit the cemetery or place where the ashes were scattered
  • Tell your children the ways in which they are similar to the loved one they lost

One last thought before we leave this topic; if you are the grieving parent or guardian you will need your own support in order to help your child on his or her grief journey. Remember, you must take care of yourself if you are to care for them. Seek your own counselor or support group to help yourself, so you can help them.

Photo Credit.

5 Comments:

  1. Sarah said on February 15, 2010 at 7:59 am ... #

    My dad died from cancer when I was 13 yrs old. I had my first conversation about my dad with a college roommate, and my first conversation with a family member when I was 22. I have a younger sister and older brother. Re: “keeping the memory person who died alive” How do you do that when your mother doesn’t talk about your dad, and hoards anything that belonged to my dad- including pictures. And how do you support and help your little sister grieve and talk about our dad? I feel like in a lot of ways I’ve coped and have seeked couseling and grieved on my own, but how do you begin to grieve as a family after 13 years???

  2. Anonymous said on February 16, 2010 at 1:14 pm ... #

    I admire your courage in talking about your dad’s death with others and your compassion for your younger sister. Not everyone grieves the same and your mom has shut down. That’s tough to cope with, but we can’t make others do what they don’t want to do. — Perhaps you and your siblings could get together and share individual memories of your dad. Each of you will likely have different ones as well as ones you share. You might even has an annual celebration on a particular day where you talk about your dad and do something special in his memory. — I don’t know your younger sister’s age, but Comfort Zone Camp might be an option. It’s free and amazing. Currently they have an annual camp for young adults as well as their camps for 7-18 year olds. http://www.comfortzonecamp.org — Grief is the feelings we have inside and mourning is when we share them with others. — Perhaps when your mother knows you and your siblings are taking your own steps on the grief journey and keeping his memories alive she will be able to join with you. It’s hard, but you needn’t wait. Continue to take care of yourself.

  3. jocelyn said on March 23, 2010 at 7:13 pm ... #

    my mom died from cancer when I was 8. I’m going to be 31 in a few months and I still haven’t reached closure– just today I was in line at the bank, watching a lady who was in her late 60’s, about how old my mom would be if she were alive. I wondered what she would look like and all of a sudden the thought, “Why my mom, and why not that lady?” came into my head– the voice of the 8 year old I was when she died. That’s one thing that has never changed– how come I have to deal with this? Why me? Why her? Why do other people get to have a mom and I barely got to have mine? I still feel angry, mournful, hateful. It’s better than it used to be, but I don’t think it will ever go away.

  4. Bill said on March 24, 2010 at 5:49 pm ... #

    It’s not fair and it never is. Coming to closure is another myth. In my experience it does get softer, but from time to time it returns with a blast. I may open my dad’s tool box and tear up for example. There are no answers to the “why” questions even though some people may try to convince us there are. I have found that there are answers to “how” questions. How can I live my life in a way that she would be proud? How can I reach out to people in pain who have a similar experience? — Your feelings are all legitimate and are not strange to those with loss. You have to move towards the pain as a part of the healing (not cure). If you can see a therapist who specializes in grief and mourning or join a support group. Both can be incredibly helpful. I’ll keep you in my thoughts.

  5. Kathryn @Expectant Hearts said on January 31, 2013 at 3:32 pm ... #

    Thank you for this. Can I also add: In very young children, their grief is affected by their development. Our youngest son passed away at 6 1/2 months of age, his “big” sister was 32 months when he died. She grieved. And then she realized he was gone FOREVER (we’re actually still working on this one) and she grieved some more. She sees her friends with little brothers and it hits her all over again that he’s not here.. It’s been fascinating watching how her grief has changed with her developmental stages.

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