Grieving with Children

Grief was a topic that was not at all on my radar. But I then discovered I had some significant re-learning to do with how children cope with it.

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My uncle passed away, and although he had been having significant health issues, it was still a rather sudden and unexpected loss for me. When I received the news, I cried, and for the next few hours processed with family and worked out details for his funeral and burial.

It was a sad moment, and our kids witnessed the raw emotion, though I didn’t think it was overly dramatic or stressful in any way. Grief was a topic that was not at all on my radar. But I then discovered I had some significant re-learning to do with how children cope with it.

The following week as life inevitably carried on, I received a phone call from my oldest daughter Amelia’s, teacher. She told me that Amelia had had a bit of a breakdown at school and was reacting badly to other kids and teachers. This was quite surprising for Amelia, who is extremely conscious of respecting authority and is normally very kind and helpful to those around her. When her teacher asked how she was feeling about what had happened, Amelia began to share about the death of my uncle over the weekend and how seeing her mom upset had really bothered her. She shared that she felt like I didn’t have time for her on the weekend and that she felt so sad about the news our family had received.

This insight from her thoughtful teacher was surprising to me, simply because Amelia didn’t know my uncle well at all. Our kids have experienced and been aware of grief in the past, and perhaps most significantly Amelia had given no sign of being upset prior to this behaviour at school. However, it was then quickly not surprising to me at the same time. My attentive, ever-listening seven-year-old was very aware of the impact the news had on me and I began to realize how the suddenness of the loss probably prompted all kinds of uncertainty and anxiety in her mind. It broke my heart to know that she had been carrying this weight and that I had been unaware of her feelings.

That evening I went out with Amelia and her sister and besides just spending some good time together we had the chance to chat about how she had been feeling. As I thought about what I would say to my daughter, still very little, but processing some big things, I knew that the simple truths of love and safety were what I wanted to offer her. I told her that I loved her and that even when Mommy is sad or distracted it is still always true that I love her completely and care very much about how she’s feeling.

Beyond those truths though, I also wanted to communicate to her the solid love and care of Jesus in my life. I told her that even when Mommy is feeling sad, I am still sure of God’s goodness and love for me. Even when things happen that we don’t expect or want, that we can run into God’s arms and know his peace and comfort in very real and tangible ways.

Let this be the truth that grounds you, my sweet girl: God is good, all the time.

Loss and grief are such complicated things to walk through and I have no desire to oversimplify them with these thoughts. But this particular parenting experience reminded me of the important job that I have to be consistently communicating the constancy of my love for my kids, not assuming that they just know and are good with it. And even more so, to continually speak the even greater truth that in Jesus they have all the love and security they will ever need. When difficulties of all kinds come, as I know they will, together we can come to Jesus and be held in the safety and reassurances of his great love. This is truth for them and for me.

Laura Jory is a long-time leader in Kids Ministry at The Meeting House. She is married to Nathan, and mom to Amelia, Eloise, Charlie, and Henry.