This week in Child Grief Awareness Month, we are focusing on those who have decided to help children along the path of their grief journey. These people include a child’s parents, caregivers, volunteers at bereavement centers, therapists, and any person who has dedicated some time to loving on and supporting grieving children and teens. One of the points National Alliance of Grieving Children has laid out about childhood grief is “Grieving children can experience growth as a result of a death when they have consistent and loving adults around them.” I completely agree.
Throughout my grief journey as a child, I felt many things besides sadness. Yes, I was sad about my dad’s death, but it was so much more complicated than that. I was relieved that he was no longer suffering. I was angry that other children had dads and I did not. I was scared that something would happen to my mom. I felt guilty when I would feel happy when I felt like I should be sad. I felt all of these things, but I did not feel like I was allowed to feel them until an adult helper told me it was ok to feel.
My mom did her best to help me process my grief feelings. She allowed me to cry and she allowed me to be angry. When I had horrible nightmares she’d let me sleep with her so I felt safe. She even knew to bail me out of situations in which she knew I would lose control, especially when it came to Father-Daughter events. I knew that she was always open to talking about my feelings, but sometimes it was hard to be upset and talk to her when she was finally having a good day. So more often than not, I ended up fighting back tears, putting on a brave face, and going about my day. I compartmentalized my feelings so much that I ended up having stomach problems that I still suffer from 18 years later. But I knew that if I needed to having a feelings explosion that she was there, she would listen, and she would sit with me until I felt better no matter how many other things she had going on that day.
Besides Mom there were others that helped me along my childhood grief journey including the amazing volunteers at Journey of Hope. JOH is a grief support group for children and their families in which you attend groups based on your age group and are allowed to talk about any of your grief feelings. This group allowed me the space to talk about anything and everything that I felt including how I was treated at school and fears about losing my mom too. The volunteers created a safe space for us and we knew that they genuinely cared about us and our feelings. They gave me the courage to not give up hope that one day I would learn to carry my grief with me and not let it consume my daily life. They helped give me the tools to make me the person I am today.
Throughout my grief journey, I could have chosen to let my feelings consume my daily life, but I chose not to. I use my experiences to help others and I would not have had the courage to do that without the tribe of people who walk beside me in the past and in the present. My spouse, family, friends, Journey of Hope, and colleagues all support me in being what I consider to be a successful person. They did not let me give up, they pushed me to keep moving forward even when I did not want to.
This road that children walk through in their grief is hard, uncomfortable, and sometimes traumatic. It would be easy for them to let their feelings consume them and have long lasting effects on their overall well being. It is the people who chose to take time to help them are the ones are the ones that make a difference.
I encourage you as we close out Child Grief Awareness Month to ask yourself how can I help? One way you could help Journey of Hope, if you’re in the local area, this year is to donate a new medium sized stuffed animal to the organization. Each child that attends JOH receives a bear or stuffed animal to help them feel comfortable. I tell people all the time when I talk about JOH that I still have my bear from my first night of group. It is pink with purple ears and purple paws. Another way you could help is to reach out to your local grief support group, including Journey of Hope in the local area, to see how you can volunteer. Grief support groups are always in need of volunteers in a facilitator capacity or in helping them in other ways. For example, JOH is always in need of meal providers since we serve a home cooked meal to our participants every group night. You could also support with a monetary donation as many of these organizations are non-profits.
I have enjoyed getting to share with you about childhood grief throughout the month of November. For those of you that are already helping a child or multiple children along their grief journey, I thank you. Your work means more than you know to a child who is suffering in their feelings. I know that it is not always easy and you may feel like you’re not making a difference, but you are. You are incredible and helping a child not only right now but to be successful through their whole life.
Stay tuned for December where I will be focusing on different parents of making it through the holiday season.