Parenting & Grief: Helping Children Cope with Loss & Death

Primrose Pink Wildflowers, a.k.a. Cat Heaven

This time of year brings vibrant patches of primrose pink wildflowers in abundance scattered about our city.
My mind quickly revisits a bittersweet experience of managing the loss of a beloved cat with the help of my mother. She was driving our car, and I was holding a box with lifeless “Sambo” in it on my lap. We were both crying, and she encouraged me to pet Sambo as we talked about all of the wonderful attributes and antics that we had so enjoyed about our dear cat. We were headed to our veterinarian’s office for reasons that escape me. Once we left Sambo in the care possession of his doctor, we settled back into our seats in the car. My mother then told me that Sambo was going to cat heaven and that she would take me to see what that looked like.
We drove to the levee on River Road in New Orleans, and there was a magnificent showing of blankets and blankets of primrose pink wildflowers covering the levee! We parked with a great view of “cat heaven” before us, and my mom began telling vivid stories of adventures that all of the cats living there were enjoying just on the other side of the levee. We imagined the great experiences that Sambo would embark upon.

A Child’s Concept of Death

My memory of that painful loss ends there, but the lessons have lived on forever. Often, the experience of the death of a beloved pet provides a child’s first understanding of the concept of death. Children need to accept and understand death as a natural event of life. Adults are given the opportunity to model the management of emotional pain and give their children simple information. Avoiding reality makes death both remote and mysterious. Acceptance of tears, a warm tone of voice, physical affection, and being in the moment all reassure a child who is trying to assimilate painful ideas. Children can also be comforted by faith explanations in families, quite often the promise of heaven. It has been said about grief that the only way out of it is through it. What a necessary journey through the pain to truly move forward!

Responding to Death

As parents, it seems to be a natural reaction to attempt to shield our children from discomfort, pain, and upsetting events. In reality, our children need us to be with them in their times of difficulty. We must help our children feel safe and respected in their thoughts and feelings. We need to be with them and listen, listen, and listen more.
Children, like adults, typically exhibit a number of responses after an upsetting event. Hyperarousal (anxiety), reexperiencing the event, dissociation, and avoidance, to name a few. When a child experiences a safe and nurturing family, healing takes shape and the process begins. As we all know, untreated trauma contributes to a host of social ills as youths mature into young adults. Lost productivity, health and mental health disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, as well as criminal behavior, are grave possibilities. The healing leads to freedom and allows one to choose loving ways of being in the world.
Are you struggling with parenting a child or children working through difficult emotions? Do you need clarity and guidance as to your role in helping your child or children transcend pain and loss? I am available and would sincerely love to assist you. Call me!


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