If you have read my About page, you will know that I lost my dad when I was a child. It was a very big deal for me as he took his own life and I found him. I was only 12.
I’m 29 years old now, and looking back on the event, there are so many things I wish were done differently. Of course, I can’t change what is done, but I can share with you, what I feel is a good way to support a child who is grieving. Personally, I feel these steps could prevent long lasting psychological damage.
SO…HOW DID I COPE AND RECOVER?
Children and bereavement is very complex. Below is a list of things I did to cope, recover and move on after my dad passed away.
Talking about what had happened and how I felt
Drawing pictures of memories and the incident itself
Music listening to songs that reminded me of my dad
Memory box collecting personal items that he had given me
Writing a letter directly to him to address the questions that nobody else could answer
Here is a bit of my story…
On May 2nd 2001, I found my dad in our family home. At that very moment when I saw him, I honestly did now know what to think. I knew NOTHING about suicide and did not know what the hell was going on! I did not cry but I did have an instant sense of panic. It was the kind of moment that sends you into fight or flight mode.
So what did I do?
Well, I instantly had this thought that I needed to save my dad and started to pray in my head that he would have a heartbeat. Something inside told me it was a race against time and I started to run and find help. I ended up running to a friend’s house, which was around the corner from mine. His dad opened the door and I told him these exact words “It’s my dad, he’s done something bad “. He shouted for his wife to call an ambulance and I ran back home to have another look and make sure that what I was saw was real. My heart was beating so fast I thought it was going to pop out of my chest.
Shortly after I ran home to ‘double check’, the ambulance crew and police arrived. I was at the forefront of all the drama, begging the ambulance crew to bash down the front door. I was not taken away from the scene, but decided to leave as I needed to find a way of contacting my mum. Sad, but true. I made the dreaded phone call to my mum’s workplace.
So from my experience, I feel these key points could help a parent to help their grieving child.
Losing a parent is hard. In my case, I felt extremely lonely and confused about why my dad left me and my brother. I was so unsure about life and felt that maybe he did not love us after all. Based on this, I would say it is VERY important to show your children as much love as possible. Try and pay each child the same amount of care and attention by giving lots of cuddles and talk time. That sense of feeling cared for and loved is very crucial at such a broken time in their lives. Of course it will also be very hard on you, so call on family and close friends for support. I spent time with close family members during the first two weeks after my dad passed, which gave my mum time to plan the funeral and have time to grieve.
When a child looses a parent, they can most certainly clam up and it may be very difficult for you to speak to them about what has happened. Communication does not always have to be talking. Depending on their age, the child may express themselves or be receptive to using a different communication style. When I lost my dad, some days I wanted to talk, some days I wanted to draw and some days I wanted to write.
If your child does not want to talk, maybe you could start the communication off by writing them a letter or drawing them a meaningful picture. This may instigate a communication channel.
Communication is also about being open and honest about how things will move forward. Give your child enough information about the death and answer any questions they may have. Let them talk to you when they need to. You could also ask other role models to step in and help you to support your child. Give them the opportunity to talk about the funeral and contribute in a way that might help them. Acknowledge their fears and anxieties about what has happened and reassure them that you love them and are there for them. Be that listening ear and provide that safe place so they know for sure they can speak to you and trust that you are there.
In the eyes of your child, they have lost a sense of security and safety. It will take lots of encouragement to bring your child to a place where they feel secure again. To ease them back in, you could encourage them to continue participating in whatever normal day to day activities they did prior to them losing their parent. In my experience, returning to school after a few weeks out, helped me to focus my mind on something different and get back into my everyday life.
If your child is at school, it may be useful for a teacher to pay your child a visit at home and discuss how they would like to transition back into school life. I did not have any support when I was at school, something I wish was available at the time. I had lots of pupils coming up to me and asking if I was alright. This didn’t help me move on, but in fact was a constant reminder. Communication with the school is crucial so try and meet with the teacher and ask for the school’s full support with transitioning your child back into the school community.
SLOW & STEADY
The grieving process can be slow; take things at a steady pace so that your child feels comfortable. Even further down the line, be mindful about making drastic changes such as re-decorating, moving home or introducing a new partner as these could have a detrimental effect on your child. Have open communication and discuss with your child, any changes that may affect them.
Everybody grieves in different ways and at different paces. Be prepared for your child to have good days and bad days. Three years after my dad died, I went into a PSHE lesson at school and the word suicide was written in capital letters on the white board. I put my head down and cried and cried! Eventually the teacher realised that I was crying and took me out of the class. This was a setback for me and I reverted back to some of the early feelings of grief, loss and insecurity. Be prepared that this could happen, but continue to show Love, have Open Communication and give that continued sense of Security.
If you feel your child has become withdrawn, is not coping or is on the path of self-destruction, it might be a good time to seek professional help. Consider speaking to your GP who will be able to provide you with further advice and guidance.