Archives For children and grief

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We call this season the most wonderful time of the year but for many it can be the most difficult.  If you are in the latter group, you undoubtably are caught in a mixture of hope and hurting.  Even over the last two days, I have friends who have lost family and other loved ones.  No matter what time of year loss is one of the deepest pains, but even more so at a time in which most people are enjoying family and friends.  You want to smile, you know you are expected to be happy, but your spirit is just not having it.  If you are blessed to have others around you who also feel the loss it helps.  At least you can hurt together, talk about it, and hopefully even find some reasons to laugh as you remember.

The above picture is from Christmas Eve 2006, one week after my children lost their mom and I lost my wife.  The smiles are genuine but not indicative of the emptiness inside.  In fact it has been a 10 year journey in which we gradually have enjoyed Christmas more every year.  Some years we took bigger strides and some smaller, often depending upon other life factors besides the loss, but now we are at a very happy place in our family.  I’m not a fan of the phrase, “Time heals all wounds.” Instead, I think in time we adapt, grow, and begin anew if we are healthy.  The grief doesn’t go away, we just start again, and that is our most powerful ability.

If it is Christmas Eve and you have lost someone today or ten years ago, you must strike the balance of remembering but also living in the present.  If you can find some reasons to smile and laugh, do not hold it back or feel guilty.  You are going to hurt so when you don’t, embrace it.  This is one of your greatest healing gifts.  Give yourself permission to be happy.  If you know someone else who is hurting or lonely this Christmas, reach out to them.  Helping someone else in pain is a good way to ease your own, at least for a while.  You can’t force happiness but you can seek it.  Your chances are much better of finding it if you make genuine efforts.   Allow yourself to cry, allow yourself to laugh and begin anew.

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This article in not an endorsement of any political party or opinion.  Like you I have my opinions, some strong, but this is not the place for them.  This article is born from conversations with a dear friend, with whom I don’t always agree but I respect and love, who is grieving.  It is also from being a father trying to help two new voters, and one future voter, in my family make sense of the volatile political climate.  

By 11:00 PM on election night it began to be evident who was most likely to win the presidential election.  It was not the widely predicted outcome and this is now being dubbed the biggest presidential upset in history by some.  In fact our nation is so widely split on political opinions that regardless of who won, roughly 48% of the people were going to be upset or angry.  This year it is just the opposite half of the nation from those who were upset in 2008.  Not all people are grieving, but some were so heavily invested in the outcome of this election that they are devastated.  There is a difference between grief and dissatisfaction.  Most people are just angry or shocked, but in some ways the 2016 election many lead to more grieving than normal.

Many women were highly invested in this election.  They were hoping for the breaking of the glass-ceiling so this election was particularly important to them.  Added to that, the widely broadcast and posted “locker room talk” video touched a nerve, sometimes even a fear, that women face every day.  I know this is true because I have daughters and they have informed me of how common it is for them to be faced with degrading and misogynistic talk.  Many women, possibly even some who voted for the winner, are concerned that this will be seen as an endorsement to some men that it is okay to behave in this manner.  This makes it even more personal for women and men who are more sensitive to women’s struggles.  Regardless of gender there are some things that can relieve your grief.

Consider taking a break from social media and TV.  In the aftermath there will continue to be arguments and opinions everywhere.  The Fall weather has arrived in much of our nation.  Get outside, feel the sun on your face, breath the crisp air and see that the world is still spinning.

Take an historical perspective.  If you are grieving I assume it is because you love our nation and have hopes for us.  Just remember that this nation you love has been through worse divides, even civil war, and you still love it.  Our freedom to choose sometimes ends in results we like and sometimes it does not.  People who thought the nation would fall apart after the 2008 election were wrong.  We can continue to be a great nation after this one as well.

Look for signs of the good aspects of our system.  Even as I write this, the current president is meeting with the president elect preparing for a smooth transition after a free election, just as happened in 2008.  Will things get ugly again?  Most assuredly, but try to maintain a wider perspective.  Roughly half of the nation agrees with you.  You will live to fight another day.  We should all hope that both sides will find a way to come together and make our nation a better place.

Take a deep breath and prepare to be a part of the solution.  After you have raked some leaves, walked your dog, or had a run through the park, start to think about how you can positively make a difference.  You cannot do that by posting on social media, so scratch that off the list right now.  Find a cause and join in.  Sitting at home watching TV and being frustrated will nor make you feel better.  Being among people who encourage you and give you hope will.  You can do this in a church, relief organization, non-profit, or political party but get involved.  Don’t count on the efforts of other people to make you feel better.  Be an agent of hope.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, listen to the other side.  Our nation will only truly improve when we hear each other.  I make it a point to have friends on both sides of the issues, especially the issues for which I have strong feelings.  It is very freeing to love someone with whom you disagree, to find there are many things on which you do agree, and to be rid of hate.  As a man I  listen to women and hear why they feel the way they do.  As a white man I listen to my black friends who have fears I cannot understand in my own experience.  Whether we agree on the reasons or not, we find that hearing each other brings us together and closer to a solution.  This will take your grief away and replace it with hope.

 

 

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How you grieve will sometimes make others uncomfortable.  From the day of your loss and for many years later, people will be watching how you remember the one you lost.  It’s just human nature.  If you laugh on the day of the funeral, some will wonder how you can be happy.  If you cry ten years later, some will say you have not healed properly.  Social media–Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Shapchat–have provided a whole new dimension of opportunities, decisions, and scrutiny.  Should you post something on the first anniversary of your loss?  Is it too maudlin?  What about the fifth or tenth anniversary?  If you were to ask your friends and family you would likely get a mix of responses that would not help much.  Certainly to live an emotionally healthy life there must be healing and you must find a new beginning, but ultimately your appropriate expression of grief is personal and not for others to judge.  To use a current phrase–you be you.  At the same time, your grief is mostly a private matter.

Today is the 28th anniversary of my marriage to Tina Sanges, and December 16 will mark the tenth anniversary of her passing.  She hasn’t been my wife for a decade but I can’t erase this date from my mind, nor should I.  Over time like the picture above those memories fade, yet I can’t help remembering and feeling the loss.  It does not mean that I have not healed, it means I have a heart.  For me, posting anything on social media seems inappropriate.  I know this blog is exactly that, but this post is for the benefit of those I seek to help, not me (mostly).  To make a memorial post on my personal social media pages is too much and would be more for show than remembrance, for me.  Among my family, and friends who were close to her it is suitable to remember privately.  For my children it is essential to talk about it.  Obviously if I were remarried I would want to be respectful to my wife in my expression.  That is a post to come later.  Ultimately the way you handle anniversaries and meaningful dates is your choice alone.

Although you cannot adjust your true feelings for others, their reactions can help you discern what is appropriate publicly.  There is no right or wrong, but you do have to admit that it can be difficult for people around you to know what to say or do.  As much as they can’t tell you how to feel, neither can you tell them how to feel.  People exposed to your grief truly don’t know what to do with it.  It is uncomfortable, for you and them.  Of course their are also those who will grieve along with you.  Grieve in a way that you feel is appropriate and be okay with that, regardless of how those on the fringe react.

Photo of my daughter Rileigh at age 5 courtesy of Donna Evans Photography, Conway Arkansas

Whenever a child loses a parent, some well-meaning but patronizing person is bound to say to the surviving parent, “Well, kids are resilient,” as a platitude.  I can tell you from experience that this is not helpful at all.  In fact it hurts.  Don’t say it.  Kids will live on, yes, but the loss will also greatly affect the rest of their lives.   The most often used phrase, “This too shall pass,” is equally dismissive of the emotional affect that such a loss has on children, even as adults.  This is not to say children can’t lead emotionally healthy lives, but just saying that they will “get over it” because they are young is fallacious.  These are some simple rules that will help you with grieving children.  When my children lost their mother they were 12, 8, and 5.  Dealing with my own deep pain, I began the journey of also helping them heal.  Now, ten years after their mom was diagnosed with cancer, I am living with three wonderful children who bless my life every day.  I will not reference their private experiences–that is their story to tell.  I can, however, offer some general insight for parents helping their children after a devastating loss.  There will be many more specific posts to follow, but let this be a starting place.

Allow them to see you grieve.  One of the main ways that children learn to cope with pain is by watching you.  They take your lead.  If you always put on a happy or brave face around them, they will stuff away their pain and that is when real damage is done.  This is not to say they don’t need to see you be strong, they do, but an appropriate show of grief will help them feel free to express their own.

Seek private help for yourself.  In order to learn from you, your children must witness your own healing journey.  Whether it is dear friends, other family members, a pastor, or a therapist–get help.  I sought help from all of theses sources.  As much as your children need to see you grieve, they also cannot be your support system.  They are kids.  Find adult help and make sure it is from an emotionally healthy adult.  There are many free services that are available.  You can also ask people you know to connect you with another adult, preferably of the same sex, who has advanced through their own grief journey.

Listen to and watch your children, individually.  No good therapist dispenses advice without listening first, a lot.  Each child responds to pain within their own experiences and personalities and to advise or correct them, you must hear and observe them.  Doing so without listening first may well result in an unhelpful intervention.  Like adults, children respond best when they know they have been heard.

Take your time.  Healing takes a long time and in fact never completely happens.  There isn’t an end to grief.  Time does not heal all wounds.  You are helping them learn to lessen their grief and find a new beginning.  Give yourself time as well.  It took me four years to turn the corner, but it will always be a part of my life.

Start with this simple advice.  It will help you make it through the day, and that is the goal in the beginning.  My pastor and grief mentor, Greg, told me this early on:  Grief forces you into a one-day-at-a-time perspective, and that is okay.  Yes, kids who lose a parent can heal and thrive, but leaving them to figure it out on their own can lead to depression, bad relationships, intimacy problems, and substance abuse.  Some have to figure it out on their own and do fine, but their chances are much greater if you help them with wisdom.  If you are a person of faith, pray–a lot.  Faith is another topic for another time.  In my experience, it has been essential.