Children face loss differently than adults. As adults you realize that a parent or aunt or friend is dead and they aren't coming back. But how do you tell your kid that their uncle or grandparent is gone forever?
I read a blog post from the Children's Hospital Boston Vector blog yesterday. The two paragraphs that resonated with me were:
We talked as a family about Hedgie and why he was special—how soft he was, how he was small enough to fit in a pocket, how you could play with him like a puppet. We talked about the sadness Owen was feeling. How loss and the emotions that come with it are normal, and that by remembering Hedgie we could keep him real in our memories. ...
As my wife points out, each of us copes with things in our own way. Zach, for instance, is like her: they wear their emotions on their sleeves. Owen is more like me: we tend to work things out quietly on the inside.
Granted the blog post was about a child losing a stuffed animal, but to the child it was a big deal.
As adults, how you react to death and loss also helps your kids. I'm not saying to never cry or cry every day. I'm not saying that women are more emotional than guys. But by sharing your loss with your child, and some (not necessarily all) of the emotions that go with it, I bet you will feel better and your child will understand more than you think.
Some more words of wisdom, from another mother who has lost a child:
See, that’s the real challenge after losing a child: moving forward. It’s almost impossible to envision in that moment of loss; how can life continue after something so horrible? But life does continue, whether we like it or not. There are chores to do and bills to pay; morning comes, again and again. So you pick yourself up and you live, but you are never the same.
At first, we are different because of our raw sadness. But over time, the sadness moves from our skin into our bones. It becomes less visible, but no less who we are. It changes into a wisdom, one we’d give up in a heartbeat to have our child back. We who have lost children understand life’s fragility and beauty. We who have lost children understand that so many things just aren’t important. All that is important is those we love. All that is important is each other. Nothing else.