Most children will go through loss and grief when one of their great-grandparents or grandparents pass. For many of us, we can remember that from out own childhood. For me I was ten when my great-grandmother passed. It was expected. But just like my children I was only eleven when the girl who grew up next-door to me died of cancer and they lost their first friend at fourteen also from cancer.
I’ll never forget telling them that night that their dear friend and hockey brother went to hospice. The next morning I woke them very early to give them time to grieve his passing before trying to pull it together enough to go to school. The grief of that loss has never healed. Each day they think of their dear friend Ian and they celebrate his birthday each year with donuts for breakfast and ice cream through the day.
I hoped that their grieving would end with that loss, but alas you never know when it will happen again.
In the past year my children’s lives have been touched by loss. Last year at the end of the school year, they lost a beloved teacher to suicide. The very unexpected loss, for my twins, showed their emotional coping in different ways. Each of them had this teacher. My eldest twin had her for yearbook, while the other had her for English, and was close friends and classmates in that class with the teacher’s daughter.
After the news of her passing had swept through the school and community, the school brought in grief counselors to be there for the children. My eldest twin dealt with the tragedy by continuing on. They’d moved her students to another room and continued with another teacher. On the day after, they offered them outlets, such as activities in the gym, etc. He took those outlets.
My other son, the one who is very good friends with the teacher’s daughter, took the loss much harder. There was an option to spend the days in the library, among friends, and those counselors engaged with the students. The day after that, if they thought they weren’t ready to enter the classroom again, they could stay in the office. I was very grateful that they were given these options and the help to learn to cope. They were sure he’d needed more time since he was close to the daughter, whom spent many afternoons at our house and the group of friends rallied behind her.
Ribbons were worn and memorials were attended. And as a parent, you hoped you’d never see your child hurt again.
Last year (2017) my youngest son entered his sixth-grade year with one of our all time, most favorite teachers ever. She had been the homeroom teacher for my eldest son, who is now almost 20, when he was in the third grade. That was a hard year for our family, and she seemed to know that this oldest of five needed a little extra love and support that year. From that first day we met her, we became close friends. She even worked for me on the side as an editor in my publishing house. Her friendship was valued by every member of our family, and I’m so grateful that every boy went through her classroom.
During this past year, when our youngest was in her class, she was diagnosed with cancer, again. I will tell you, I will forever be moved by her vigilance to be with her students as she went through surgeries and chemo treatments. I don’t know how she did it, but they were a team, she and those kids–a family. She would send photos of herself during treatment and keep in touch with them until she could get back to school.
Beating cancer was first and foremost on her mind. Her will and strength was contagious, and it gave those kids hope and determination to overcome any obstacle that would get in their way personally.
She passed in January of 2018.
The shock of her death rocked the community and our family. The boys sang at her funeral and the church was at capacity because she hadn’t just touched our lives, she’d touched the lives of every person she’d ever met. Though the grief was so deep, I think seeing what one person could mean to so many lifted the spirit of my children. They were special, because this amazing woman told them they were. She frequented their lives in school and personal occasions. It was nothing to see her sitting at their dining room table when they came down in the morning, or attending a gathering I would be having.
There were tears in all these occasions. There was deep grief and sadness. But in every instance of loss, my children rallied together to comfort one another. They talked about the good qualities they loved of each person, and they carried those good traits into their own lives. Losing a young friend shakes your world, and they will never forget that a fourteen-year-old boy can have courage and battle something so big, and yet face death with certainty that greatness is on the other side. They’ve seen the devastating results of suicide and they know that even someone who can positively impact lives can be hurting on the inside. And they’ve witnessed firsthand what love, compassion, and graciousness can do to the lives of people at any age.
I’d like to think they would never grieve again, but grief is a part of life. Knowing how to carry on and keeping that person’s gifts in their hearts is vital. To keep the question, “If tomorrow it was me, what impact would I have had?” at the forefront of their minds as they walk this earth, then the grief taught them something.
Those whom my children have lost will never leave their hearts. And next, when they lose another loved one, I hope they will carry them and their lessons and messages through the life they live–impacting those around them positively.
Should grief and your child ever overtake them and the cloud is unable to lift, seek help for them. Grief counselors are amazing people who can help them learn to face those feelings that hurt so badly. There are some things we simply can’t shelter our children from, but we certainly can give them the tools.
How have your children dealt with grief?