Why It's OK To Say, "I'm Still Grieving"
BY: Susan Hamme, LSW
There is a list of myths about how grief and loss impact children long-term. When asked in a classroom, “Are children permanently scarred by death?” most students provide a resounding “no” in response. This is often presented in a question about what some big differences might be if an adult’s mom or dad died, or if a child’s mom or dad died. They are often quick with answers about how their parent would miss proms, graduations, senior nights, weddings and births of their own children. They are able to paint a picture of how a loss impacts us differently as our lives go on and learn early that this does not mean that they have not dealt with the loss in a healthy way.
An adolescent boy attended one of our school-based groups called S.T.A.R.S. As a 5th grader, he talked about the loss of his dad being hard as he had no one to take him fishing, ride motorcycles or watch wrestling with him. He attended the group again two years later. As a 7th grader, his worries had changed – who will teach him how to shave, ask a girl on a date, or show him how to be a good husband and father?
We are able to remember our loved ones at significant points in our lives when we are experiencing growth, change or more loss. When we reach a new milestone in our own lives, we can miss these special people differently. Maybe we wish that they were there to celebrate with us or comfort us or just join in a special moment with us. At times, young people as well as adults can see the resurgence of grief as evidence that they did not process or cope with their loss effectively at the time of the death. The inner voice in a person’s
head can say, “why are you not over this yet?” It is important for all of us to know that not being “over it” is normal—and learn healthy ways of coping.
Recently a young girl whose dad died went to a father-daughter dance at school. Her older brothers and an older male cousin escorted her to the dance, each wearing one of her father’s shirts. There were moments of tears as well as moments of laughter and joy as they created new positive memories. This was a similar experience to that of the young man in the S.T.A.R.S. group, who was able to acknowledge that there were men in his life who could fill in for his dad in aspects of his life. Some children might need permission to let someone fill in the role of the person who died. They might be struggling with guilt, and not want it to seem as if they are “replacing” or “forgetting” the person who died. It is important to let children know that they are not replacing or forgetting, but rather allowing the people here to love and care for them.
We can help young people learn that it is healthy to acknowledge losses at different times in our lives.