Preparing Children for the Holidays after Death of a Family Member
For children who have experienced the death of a close family member such as a parent, grandparent or sibling during the past year, the prospect of the holiday season ahead may be confusing and painful. In addition, bereaved adults in the family may also face considerable challenges.
There’s a tendency for there to be ‘the elephant in the room. Too often, people are inclined to avoid talking about the person who died because they’re afraid doing so will bring down the energy in the room or make everyone sad. But avoiding talking about that person, it closes off the relationship each person had with the person who died and prevents everyone from sharing stories and feelings.
One of the most helpful things you can do is to talk about the person who died. Call them by their name. Tell stories about them—all of this helps with healing and creating movement in the grief process.
Adults may be confused about or not understand how children express their grief. Children move in and out of grief—they may be sobbing one minute, then run out to play the next. They are a good representation of how to deal with grief as a deeply felt, universal feeling. It’s important for adults to send a message that grief is okay to feel and talk about. Role modeling is one of the best ways to let children know that it's ok to cry. . . and it's ok not to cry.
Adding to the challenge for the adults is the pain they themselves may be experiencing. It's not uncommon to her an adult caregiver say, "My children want to put up a tree, but I just don’t have the energy to make the holiday.” Some adult caregivers may also tend to over-gift in an attempt to replace the person who has died with things, which can send children a wrong message about loss.
Some helpful tips:
· Plan for the holidays before they begin. This can help prevent being blindsided by overwhelming sorrow during the holiday itself. Ask the children what they’d like to do and which of the family’s rituals and traditions they want to keep. Seek to find balance and compromise in deciding on the plans.
· Don’t push aside feelings. Accept that it’s okay to feel as you feel in that moment, whether it’s sad or happy. Be honest in saying you’re hurting and that you’re missing the person who died. And, particularly if you are a bereaved spouse, ask your kids to allow you to express your feelings too.
· Start a new ritual or create a legacy that honors the person who died. Be intentional in your remembering. For example, if the person who died was a young sibling, your family might consider participating in a toy drive in their memory.
If the family doesn’t communicate, if there’s no remembrance now, what does that mean for future holidays? Without talking about the person who died, the elephant in the room will continue to be an uninvited guest to future holidays.”
Shimmering Wings provides grief support to those who have been impacted by a childhood death loss. In addition to family based grief related activities, Shimmering Wings is the Colorado partner of Camp Erin, a free overnight camping experience for youth ages 6 - 17. For information, contact 720-443-3178 or firstname.lastname@example.org.