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Hartselle Enquirer

Children all grieve differently

By Staff
Michelle Blaylock, Mom's Corner
I'm sure many of you were wondering why I didn't write an article last week. To make a very long story short, my father-in-law passed away Oct. 1. He had been ill for some time and just wasn't able to recover. After two operations, it became evident that he would be bedridden and would have to depend on extensive life support to remain alive. My mother-in-law made the very difficult decision to let him go. So although his death wasn't a surprise, it was nevertheless just as painful.
This was the first experience my children have had to cope with the loss of a close family member. Although there have been other losses in their lives such as elderly family friends and pets, it's not the same as losing a grandparent.
I want to share some of my experiences with you and how I've tried to help my children cope with this very difficult time. First of all, we were blessed in that the children were able to tell their grandfather good-bye. John and I made the decision to allow them into his hospital room to see him one last time. Yes, their grandfather was in terrible condition, but death is a part of life, and the children and probably their grandfather needed a chance for closure. Our 4-year-old did not go in to see him. However, he did wave good-bye from the hallway outside the door. Their grandfather died just two days after the children had seen him. We explained as simply as possible that his soul, the part that made him their grandfather, was in heaven with Jesus.
Each child dealt with their grandfather's death in a different way. I have several who rarely, if ever, cry publicly. They keep a tight rein on their feelings, but that doesn't mean they aren't hurting. I gave each child time to tell me what they were feeling.
We didn't stay the entire time at my mother-in-law's home. First of all, she wasn't used to coping with that much chaos and let me tell you, eight extra people in your home is chaos. Secondly, the kids needed some time away from the house that held so many memories of their grandfather. We moved to a hotel not far away that had an indoor pool and each night the children took turns spending the night with their grandmother.
Children react differently to grief depending on their ages and the attachment they had to the person who passed away. For example, young children will often regress to things like sucking their thumbs or bedwetting. Some may begin to act out aggressively or do the exact opposite and withdraw into themselves. This is the time to be patient with the regressive behaviors and allow opportunities for expressing the anger they are feeling. Puppets are wonderful to allow young children the opportunities they need to express what they are feeling. Also, young children will be persistent in thinking the person who passed is coming back. Although this is normal, if it continues it can also be emotionally unhealthy. This can be the time to look for some professional help.
Elementary children express their grief by having trouble concentrating on school work, eating too much or too little, nightmares, and regression of behaviors like bedwetting. Although all of these behaviors are normal, it is trying on the adults in the children's lives. Elementary children also need healthy ways to work out their grief. Art, crafts, play, journals, etc are all great ways for children to express their grief.
Also these children, like all of us, need time to talk to someone who is really listening to their feelings.
Pre-teens and teens sometimes have a bigger problem with expressing their feelings. By now they know or think they know what society expects of them. So they are trying to meet that expectation and have a difficult time meshing that with how they are really feeling. Just like all of us these children need time to express their feeling constructively or those feelings will come out destructively.
While we were in Missouri I made sure the children had plenty of opportunities to just play. We took their bikes and they rode bikes, we went to the park and went swimming. I also tried to have as much structure as possible. Children need to know what's happening and what's going to happen next. This provides a sense of security and oftentimes children will become very insecure following the death of a loved one.
They were also allowed the opportunity to participate in the funeral. This is another step toward closure. However, I didn't force them to participate. They were just given the opportunity. We also didn't force them to pass by the casket. It was their choice if they wanted to see the grandfather in death. I took things like puzzles, crayons, paper, coloring books and snacks to the lounge in the funeral home. That way the children could "get away" from the highly emotional chapel area and relax a bit themselves.
Overall, it was a highly stressful week. We weathered it well as a family, but I know that we haven't had time to pass through all the stages of grief yet. It will be some time before we are truly "healed" as a family.
If you have any questions or comments for Mom's Corner, please e-mail them to: moms-corner@juno.com.

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