One out of seven children will lose a parent before they are 20. The statistics are sobering, but they also call for preparedness. However, professionals of all types are often at a loss when dealing with a grieving child. Talking to adults about death and grief is difficult; it’s all the more challenging to talk to children and teens. The stakes are high: grieving children are high-risk for substance abuse, promiscuity, depression, isolation, and suicide. Yet, despite this, most of these kids grow up to be normal or exceptional adults. But their chance to become healthy adults increases with the support of a loving community. Supporting grieving children requires intentionality, open communication, and patience. Rather than avoid all conversations on death or pretend like it never happened, normalizing grief and offering support requires us to be in tune with kids through dialogue as they grapple with questions of “how” and “why.” When listening to children in grief, we often have to embrace the mystery, offer love and compassion, and stick with the basics.
The statistics are staggering – 1 in 7 kids are going to experience the loss of a parent by the age of 20. Then factor in siblings. Grandparents. Aunts and Uncles. Cousins. Friends – of any age. Kids are experiencing death and kids are experiencing dying, but do we really know how to relate to the kids on their level? On death? On grief?
I was one of those statistics. I lost my grandfathers when I was an infant. My mom passed when I was a mere 12 years old. Both of my grandmas the following year. My cousin died shortly after. Over-dosed. So much loss. I was grieving throughout my teen years. I never had time to process one loss before the next transpired. Unfortunately those around me had no idea how deeply the invisible wounds ran. Kids who experience this loss need to be surrounded by others who truly understand such a loss – they need to be around people of any age who have truly experienced a similar loss. Someone who understands.
What Do We Tell the Children explains the biggest disservice we can do with those kids is to NOT talk about the loss… their grieving… Their suffering. However the opposite is also true… to shove it in their faces. People cannot relate to those who’ve experienced such a deep loss – unless they have also felt that loss. As a former child who deeply grieved the loss of a close parent and many close loved ones I am qualified to say Primo really gets it, he really understands the needs of the child (or adult) who have experienced or will soon experience that deep loss. That isolating loss.
If a loss will likely be occurring, or has occurred, do the child a favor and get this book. Read this book. Skim sections on occasion. Grief can span years. And changes through the phases of child development. Grief will re-emerge on occasion, triggers will remain. Everywhere.