NO ONE COULD EVER possibly prepare themselves enough for the brunt impact of the death of a loved one. Death takes from life without asking or permission. There’s no consideration of circumstance or stage of life or preference. It’s hand clumsily reaches into your life and pulls out all that it wants. The end. And if death is a thief, then grief is the nosey neighbor who uninvitedly returns to your door every morning to chat again about what happened. Soon enough, you find yourself trying to sneak out the back door or a side window to avoid grief each day. Some days you can outwit it, but you will never beat it. Grief always returns, typically unannounced, to recall you to loss until you make friends, put on the coffee and talk. This process of making friends with grief works for an adult who knows how to converse with grief. But a child typically doesn’t know how to answer the door and put on the coffee and make friends. A child who experiences the loss of a parent or loved one is stuck inside of a broken house, haunted by emptiness and aching loneliness.
In our family, I can distinctly remember the suspended pain in my daughters’ eyes after their mother died. They held words and tears from me in fear that they would cause me to hurt even more. Their little smiles spread vacant under their flat laying eyes. Nothing would cure the aching except to scoop their memories into the neatest piles, pack them with us and move on. I learned to how to speak honestly with them about the holes in our hearts and to nurture them even though we didn’t feel okay. Together, we discovered goodness in each day. Life would never be the same again eventually matured into a tender hopeful adventure rather than a sinking black hole. And now more than four years removed, we haven’t conquered death, we’ve been swallowed by life again. Maybe that makes us survivors.
One thing I am sure of, we are not done. Grief is not something that you graduate from or level out of, but a lifelong movement further away from loss into life again, where hope roots down into each day again. As years go by, they mature emotionally, intellectually and spiritually, and their lives strengthen and take individual form, our daughters will wrestle with grief interruptions and emotions that they aren’t ready, or even able, to process now. This is the life they know all too well: 1.2 million children will lose a parent to death before the age of 15. As a parent, my role is to lead them through grief now, teaching them how to preserve memories and cultivate life, so that when grief visits them later in life, they will be ready to put on the coffee and make friends instead of climbing out of windows and slipping out the back door.
As a once widower and now an author, I see my experience as a means of helping to create better awareness of grief in families. And you can help me. Each year on the third Thursday of November, the National Alliance for Grieving Children helps open the door for these little forgotten mourners and give opportunity to tell children they are not forgotten - there is healing, hope and a new day for them to thrive in and belong to. Please visit childrensgriefawarenessday.org for more information on how to get involved.
And if you are in the Dallas area, I will be speaking at an event to coincide with Children’s Grief Awareness day graciously hosted by Watermark church on Saturday November 22.
Here’s the link for more information - A Conversation on Grief and Families
*(Dr. Elizabeth Weller, Dir. Ohio State University Hospitals, 1991)