When a Child Loses a Loved One, Part 1

When your child experiences the loss of a loved one – whether a grandparent, parent, sibling, friend, or teacher – he can become detached from his feelings, in a sense, out of time. The worst has happened and, in his mind, nothing can restore a state of normalcy again.

Since bereavement is a particular kind of grief, and not a mental disorder, children do not recover from it. To try is a waste of energy impacted by a sense of failure; it is more a process of adapting.

Your child now must learn to relive without his loved one. Following this destruction of the original self, a new self develops – one who will always be in pain, but who does not have to suffer… as suffering is contraction against the pain. The approach is to allow your child to grieve, to have his pain, and to surrender to it.

Over time, your child integrates the loved one into his life. And like a butterfly that sits on his shoulder, he now lives on with that loved one’s past, present, and future incorporated and internalized.

The steps of grieving include both an inward and outward adjustment. These stages happen either simultaneously or over time. The process itself is a life’s work.

We never sever the ties with the people we have loved and lost.  We do come, however, to an acceptance of a new reality. Life for your child will never be the same again, but it will go on, and the intense pain will soften as it ebbs and flows over the years. It is the way he is guided through his grief process that will determine the quality of how he will live his life.

Healing through love is the alchemy that moves your child forward toward wholeness.  While grieving, you, the parent, should honor and pay attention to his physical, nutritional and emotional needs. It is vital that he be allowed to express his feelings and be with his grief.

The stages of grief, according to Kubler Ross, are:

  1. Denial and isolation
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

It is important at this time to create strategies for your child to affect inward and outward healing. Relationships that have been intact up to this point are often threatened and sometimes dissolved with the onset of grief, as your grieving child transfers his feeling of grief, inadequacy, and guilt to those relationships.

One of the techniques used here to effect an inward healing is analytical therapy – a feedback system used to bring him into conscious awareness. Different children channel their grief in different ways. There is no model of right and wrong, except allowing your child a safe place in which to grieve.

Grief has its own timing, so it in necessary for him to experience the immensity of the process. You must give him permission to live. At first, it is just about getting through the day, realizing that the things that normally define him and his activities are no longer his reality.

Healing begins and ends with the heart. It is a life-long process. In my next blog post, I will share some concrete tips to help you help your child maneuver through the loss of a loved one.