A Child’s Grief

“There were so many unanswered questions and every time I wanted to ask someone, I was told that everything was fine and I shouldn’t worry.”
His words at age 34 still held the agony of his loss which had occurred when he was a child of six. His father died suddenly and no one seemed to know what had happened. He said he recalled an aunt use the words – “heart attack.” What young David knew was his father was no longer there to play with him, drive him to the store, tuck him in at night. His mother seemed to be crying all of the time and his grandparents could barely speak when he saw them. The depth of David’s loss was buried within himself as everyone tried to reassure him that things were OK.
“I guess that I was hurt most because at that time no one would talk to me about Dad. Today, I always try to be frank with my children and answer their questions.” he said.
Children are often prevented from exploring their emotions when a parent dies and leaves a young family. Some families keep the children away from the funeral home or the funeral itself as a means of protecting the child. However, some adults who have experienced this type of loss are often angry that they were not allowed to be part of the grieving which they were experiencing.
Others say that they have terrible memories of a parent’s death and funeral and found it impossible to understand what was going on in those grey days. One man who is now in his 50’s lost his mother when he was nine and he said that for years he was tormented by the grave scene because no one talked to him about it.
“Sometimes, I still see it and I think if only someone had told me beforehand what was going to be happening it may have been better for me and for my sisters and brothers.” he said.
Counselling at the time of the funeral may be necessary for families with young children. There may be the emptiness of not having said farewell to a parent and this can be difficult for a child or a teen. One youg girl confided that she had argued on the morning of her mother’s untimely death at age 43.
“We always had words about my not eating breakfast and that day was not different, except she died a few hours later.” she said.
She said that she carried that guilt with her for many years until she found someone to talk to about her deepest feelings. With the loss of a parent, many children feel they have to assume new roles in the family, be a little mother to the younger children, look out for the other kids so that the chores are still done and the father’s influence is still present. Some even say they feel as though they must atone since other mothers or fathers have not died, but theirs have, so something must be wrong. In some cases families have to be split up until the other parent can assume life again and this can be difficult for a child who may have to changes schools or move to another neighbourhood. Simply being able to talk about these changes and the family dynamics that result, can often help children.
Death is almost impossible for adults to understand so how must it be for a young child? Sharing the emotions of loss and the feelings of futility, self pity, hopelessness, doubt, fears, and looking at the events that will be in the future but the parent won’t be there to share can be devastating. We all need time to remember and a child may need help with that memory of a parent who has died too soon.
At Bereaved Families of Ontario, there are groups which can help youngsters who have experienced the lost of a loved one.
By: Barbara Klich for Bereaved Families of Ontario