Loss is a dramatic change for any adult, but for a child it is frequently more deeply painful and even incomprehensible.
Depending on the child’s age and relationship to the person who has died:
They may perceive the death as “their fault”. They may feel concerns and say things like “I didn’t want to catch cancer, so I didn’t go to see them as much as I should have.” or “If I had gone to see him, he wouldn’t have died.”
Younger children might believe that the deceased has moved away, and they may not understand why he or she is left behind. To young children, death is not permanent. They might wonder if or when the person will be coming back.
Confusion and anger frequently occur after a death. “Why did Dad leave me?” “Didn’t he realize I need him?” “How are we going to survive?” “Will we have enough money to survive?”
Sometimes anger is directed at a higher power. “I hate God!” “I prayed really hard that my loved one would get better, but they didn’t!”
Regardless whether a child or an adult, counseling is an important part of the path to acceptance.
Hospice of Northern Virginia, 13168 Centerpoint Way, Woodbridge, VA 22193 - (703) 670-5080 may also be a valuable resource.
There are many childrens’ books that parents may find helpful. One that I specifically recommend is:
Just In Case You Ever Wonder, by Max Lucado
Perhaps the most important thing to realize is that children will not process death in the same time frame as adults. The delay may be even be 6 months after a death. Give children the opportunity to talk about their loved one. Frequently they worry that it will cause you greater pain, and they will want to avoid it, so encourage them to share their feelings and memories.
Participating in a ceremony often helps a child to feel connected to the loved one who has died. On the anniversary of a death, for example, children may want to honor the one they have lost, by doing something like releasing balloons with notes attached to their loved one.
As the adult, have patience with yourself.
I lost the love of my life after 13 years of marriage, and 5 months of battling leukemia. I was a single parent for the first time.
As the remaining parent, I found that guilt will overcome you, along with a sense of sadness as well as terror. You will have difficulty making decisions, without your “sounding board”. You may tell God that He has “taken the wrong parent”. It is important to find a support team, which will include not only friends and family, but your pediatrician. You will need people support you, to guide you, and to tell you that you are doing a marvelous job.
Eventually, our life of “3” became a life of “2”. You will find a new ways to communicate with your child. You will not always be certain, not always feel confident, but you will always be connected to your child, in your own special ways.
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Mary Nolan, has worked with many children through the years, walking with them through difficult times, including grief and loss. Mary is the mother of a middle school aged daughter. A quote that is a particular favorite of Mary’s is “It is only when the sky is the darkest that you can really see the stars.” - Thomas Carlyle