The most common question asked of me after my husband passed away is “Is there anything I can I do for you?”. I can see in people’s eyes that they want to help, but they don’t know how. The problem with that question is, I don’t have any idea what anyone can do to help.
So how do you “mourn with those that mourn”? I want to address this question in two parts, starting with how to mourn with children and next, address mourning with someone who lost a spouse. Why these two topics? Because those are the two that I know about. I am not going to profess to know everything about this subject. I am not a licensed professional. I know that every situation is different and unique, but I have been there, I am there, and I believe hearing about personal experiences can help in dealing with situations.
So let’s start with children, how can we help a child through the pain of loss? As I said I only know about my own situation and what has worked with my children. My husband was diagnosed with cancer right before my son’s eighth birthday. We decided right away that we would make sure that the kids knew what was going on from the very begining. We made sure that we explained the situation to them in terms that they would understand. We didn’t want to scare them so we included our hopes concerning treatment, but we wanted them to understand the realities of the situation, as well. We kept them up to date with tests and results and we made sure that if they had any questions they were free to ask them at any time and they would get an honest answer. I believe this was a great help to them when he finally lost his battle, they knew it might happen and they were as prepared as they could be.
OK, so they knew it might happen and it did, now what? For me, I made sure that even through my own pain I kept my eye on them to see their reactions. My daughter was very passive and my son became very angry. Luckily, I had family around who could give them a lot of attention immediately following his death. My kids loved having family around. My son was so angry and sulky afterward until his cousins came, then he could play and act like a kid and that made all of the difference. My daughter was determined to get back to business as usual. She wanted to get back to school right away and have her life return to some kind of normalcy. Read those cues and don’t make them feel like they have to behave in any certain way. They are individuals and should be treated as such.
So what can a person do who is not the parent? What can you do as a concerned friend or acquaintance?
In my opinion, treat them as you normally would. They already know that they are different from their friends now, they see that, and it makes them uncomfortable. They don’t want to be different. If you are someone in their lives who would crack jokes and tease them don’t be afraid to continue to do that. Of course you can express your sadness for their loss, but don’t let it change how you behave towards them forever. Kids are very perceptive beings, if you approach them with sadness in your eyes and pity written on your face, they will notice and feel like they are to be pitied.
Do not be afraid to speak to them of their loved one. If you have a happy memory to share with them – please do! I try to speak of their dad in everyday terms. If you don’t think it’s a big deal to share thoughts and feelings, they won’t either and it will make it easier for them to share when they need to. Try to be comfortable speaking to them and that comfort will spread.
Don’t forget the boys. Isn’t it easier to give flowers and cards to girls? I found that to be the case the week of the funeral. My daughter got flowers, cards, and presents from friends and church members by the bunches, but my son got very few. Lucky for me he told me that he felt bad about that and so I made sure that he got a plant that he could keep in his room and was to be his alone. I could see the…I’m going to say relief, for lack of a better word, in his eyes as I informed him that the plant was his and that someone had thought of him enough to send it.
Bottom line: Kids don’t want to be treated differently from everyone else. Think back to those days in your life and remember what it was like to be singled out and to feel different, it’s not a fun memory is it? Express your sorrow for their loss and then take your cues from them. If they don’t want to talk about it anymore, then don’t. When they do want to talk they will find you. Get back to business as usual, kids love routines and though they can’t get back to what they had before, get as close as you can as soon as you can. As always, love them and care for them, they can read you like a book and if they “read” love, all will be well.