I am going to step outside of my regular Wednesday posts and discuss something that struck my soul today. Today is National Childhood Grief Awareness Day. This day is meant to bring awareness into the world about the millions of children who are suffering from grief on a daily basis. If you have not experienced grief as a child than it is difficult to understand what it is that these children go through on a daily basis.
Grief as a child is so different than grief as an adult. Not necessarily more or less painful or more or less important, just very different. There is so much more lost to a child than the loved one.
I lost my father when I was 9, it was sudden and unexpected. He suffered a severe heart attack while getting off of the couch to get an apple out of the refrigerator. My mother and he had just finished watching one of his favorite movies, National Lampoons Christmas Vacation. And BOOM. He fell to the floor. He was gone. He just DIED. He was 38 years old. And I lost lost one of the most important and influential people in my life. At that time, I felt that my soul died with him, but there was so much more to it than having lost his presence in my life.
Thankfully, I was not at home when he died. I just so happened to be spending the night at my grandmother’s house. I could continue the saga of everything else that happened that night, minute by minute, but that is not what I want this post to be about. What I am aiming for here, is what happens afterwards. Days after, months after, years and years after suffering that type of sudden, shocking, childhood loss.
Aside from the fact that when a child loses a loved one their sadness is a heavy weight to bear, they also lose an entire life.
Every single thing in my life, that had been stable and secure up until that point, changed. My house, gone. My father died there, nobody wanted to live there anymore but that was my home, an integral aspect of my security. My neighborhood friends, an important part of my social living, gone. My family relationships disintegrated. This doesn’t happen to everyone but is just an example of how a loss can spiral out and affect every single thing in a child’s life. Things begin to happen that affect the child for years into the future. I can’t count how many times the thought of “I just wish I had my old life back.” crossed my mind as a child.
I had certain members of my family, who I once trusted very much, begin to compete with eachother (and me) for who “owned” the grief, who had the “closest” relationship, whose loss was the “biggest”. And there I was, a child, a fatherless daughter on the sidelines as if it couldn’t possibly affect me at all. Yet, my heart was SCREAMING, silently, but screaming none the less. I couldn’t voice my need for help. My opinion and feelings were unwanted by a group of people who were very close to me. I was not allowed to own my own grief, I was not a valid sufferer of the loss. And if I did attempt to discuss it I would be scolded as to either “getting myself too upset” or even asked “Well, how do you think I feel, he was my____”. I began to feel that there was something wrong with me for being so sad all the time because other’s acted as though it were abnormal. I was very close with my father and losing him was hard, but I must say what was harder was not being able to express myself and receive any type of consolation from many people who I used to think cared for me. I do not wish to point out who it was that behaved this way, but I will say that I have a very loving and supportive immediate family consisting of my mother, brother, and sister and that they were NOT involved in this “grief competition” as I have come to call it.
Not being able to own your own grief is beyond frustrating. Especially for a child, as I said, one begins to feel that there is something abnormal about their emotions. As an adult, that would be different, one can recognize what is and is not normal behavior. But as a child, I truly felt that maybe my relationship with my Dad wasn’t as special as I once thought. Maybe “they” were right and they were closer to him or knew him better than I did.
I couldn’t trust anymore and it was more than not being able to trust that someone would continue to live. I couldn’t trust life, I couldn’t trust love, it was all a lie. The people who I had once thought loved me so much didn’t even care that I had lost my Dad. Being an adult now, looking back, I can see that they were dealing with their own loss. But a child doesn’t recognize that or understand the way that people can lash out when in pain. And there went the trust, it became a lie. A lie that I had willingly believed for 9 years. That life was good and the world was happy and that you could trust others to love you and care for you and always be there. It is these feelings that the main character in my novel, RIVERBEND deals with. What does one have left when their entire sense of security disappears? Their own strength. That strength can, at times, be damaging to us. My strength caused me to push away those that loved me, feeling that they made me “weak” and that surely my “weakness” would only lead to further heartache. To be honest, and bare my soul a bit more, I still struggle with “needing” people. I find at times the thought crosses my mind that I don’t “need” anybody, only myself. This is a lie, it is not true, and giving into this process causes bitterness and resentment.
That is what millions of children are dealing with everyday in the world. Their entire sense of security is GONE and a false sense of “strength” sets in.
Can we replace it? No.
Can we “fix” it? No.
What we can do is we can be there along their journey. We can provide love and support along the way. We can show them that the world still is a beautiful place, that there is still happiness and love and that, somehow, one can find that security again. I believe the most important aspect to try and portray to a grieving child is that they can trust again. Yes, there will be more sadness. Yes, there will be more loss, but excluding love and trust from one’s life under the fake cover of strength takes away the slightest chance of finding happiness again.
I don’t want to make this post “my entire story”, there is so much more to my story than this. Rather, I want to show examples of how grief can be different for a child based on my experience and I hope I have effectively done so. To be honest, I can get pretty emotional when discussing my personal experience with death, so if that is obvious in my writing I apologize. I just felt like this needed to be put out there so that others are aware of the grieving child’s predicament.
Please, if you know of any grieving children in your lives, reach out, make a difference, show them the light in the world again while they are so consumed with darkness. They cannot process all of the feelings an adult can when it comes to grief. They need to be able to own it and freely express their sadness, their anger, and their love. If you have had any experiences with grief please comment below and share.