I am so at a loss as to what happened tonight and how to deal with it. 8 months ago FIL died suddenly (heart attack). He and DS were very close and he always called DS his little buddy. After he died, DS I guess didn't want to face being sad about it, because for the first month or so, he insisted that he wasn't sad about Papaw dying, he was sad about his toad Herman dying (a year before). After that month, he admitted that he was sad about Papaw.
He never really cried, even at the funeral, but he did seem sad. He also seemed to understand what had happened and where Papaw's spirit was and all that. Every couple of weeks, he'd look sad and say, "I'm sad that Papaw died" and we'd hug him and he'd be fine.
Well, tonight we were cuddling and doing our bedtime prayer and song, same as always, when he suddenly said, "I'm sad that Herman and Papaw died" and started crying. I was shocked, since he'd never cried about it before. DH came in and we all cuddled and DS just broke down bawling. He asked to see pics of FIL and we pulled some up and he ended up almost hysterical, reaching out toward the picture, saying "I want Papaw!"
We ended up printing out a pic of DS and FIL and taping it beside DS's bed. He's now laying there with his hand on the picture, crying off and on (DH is with him). We've talked about various things we can do to remember FIL and we're getting him an urn necklace like DH's so DS can have some of FIL's ashes. I don't know what else to do. I don't even know how to get him calmed down enough to sleep, since it's after midnight and he's still freaking out intermittently.
This is the first time I've ever dealt with grief in a child and I honestly have no idea what to expect. Is it normal for it to take this long for the reality of it to hit and for him to really grieve? Is there anything I can do besides cuddling and saying things like "I miss him too" and "It's ok to be sad"?
I don't know a lot about this and I have no first hand experience with this.
Here are the things I have learned.
1) it is very normal for children to grieve differently than adults do. One typical example of this concept that is often given in literature that often children may appear to not be grieving for many months and then show great amounts of emotion/sadness grief. I read that this is because time moves differently for children/children experience time differently.
2) everything you're doing sounds very supportive and you are helping your son.
3) it is great that he is crying, and even better that he is crying with you.
4) this one I don't know about, it's just a thought. Sometimes I hear my children's great aunt (a master child raiser) say "okay, I think you are done crying about this for now" as a way of closing out the hysteria kids can get into. (grown ups can get into this also). This may or may not feel right for you, with your son.
peace to you and to your son.
I've never had to deal with a child's grief before, but I know when *my* dad died, it took many years to fully process it (and I was a young adult at the time). Even now, I have a hard time thinking/talking about it without crying (and it was 18 years ago). I believe it was a hard road to healing because a) it was so sudden and b)my family completely ignored it. There was no funeral (request of my mother). It was like he'd never existed.
So, I'm no expert, but I think it's good that you are acknowledging it and talking about it; I think it's great that you allowed him to go to the funeral (I wasn't allowed to attend either grandfather's funeral as a child, nor was I permitted into the hospital rooms to say goodbye, and felt quite angry about it at the time). I think the fact that he's moved from talking about the death of the toad to the death of his grandpa shows psychological progress. Basically, I think you're doing a great job. Other than to maybe suggest counseling, my untrained opinion is that grief takes a long time to process and that you are doing your son a service by encouraging him to express his feelings, and validating them as well.
My son was 4.5 yo when his brother died shortly after his birth. It's been 1.5 years ago and I'm amazed at the depth of his grief. He still talks about his brother, all the plans he had for them to do together, etc. We have a daughter now who is six months old. DS says he wants both of his siblings, stuff like that.
We've been very open with him in our grief. He knows how incredibly painful this has been but he also knows we have joy, even in our grief. We saw a counselor shortly after our son's death and she explained that our oldest would learn how to grieve by watching us. She said to be honest about what death is (he's not "sleeping" instead his heart no longer beats and his lungs no longer breathe, etc. He won't be coming back, that kind of stuff). She also said that our son would re-process this loss through every developmental stage he grows through until he is an adult. We've found that to be sooo true. He will go a few weeks or months without mentioning his brother and then out of the blue he'll talk about him or start crying.
She also told us that our son needed to be told he was safe. He asked what would happen if we died and we explained our wills and who we had chosen to care for him. He liked our choice and needed to hear it a few times and was good with it.
I agree that it is perfectly fine to help him calm down by saying gently something like "honey, you're so tired and it's late. It's time to calm down and stop crying. We can miss Papaw more tomorrow." Repeat, repeat, repeat to help him calm down and fall asleep. Sometimes they don't know how to find their way back to calm and you can guide them. It's not like you're telling him not to cry - that would be different. You are acknowledging his loss and that is what is most important.
You don't have to make it better - he will figure that one out for himself so long as he has your emotional support and listening ear.
Sounds like you're doing a great job. I know that the second hardest part of losing a child is watching my oldest grieve his brother. It is heartbreaking for us to watch our children suffer so, but I've learned over this last 1.5 years that my son is so resilient and such an empathic child because of this loss.
Hugs to you and your family - I'm sorry your FIL died.
I think it is pretty normal for a little kid to have a delayed grieving process. I think it depends on where the kid is at intellectually how deep their understanding goes about death.
When my BIL was killed dd1 was 3.5. She loved her uncle John and understood that he was hurt really and and his body couldn't keep living so he wouldn't be around anymor.. She wasn't sad just accepting in an, "Oh, ok," kind of way.
Then out a year and a half later when she was 5 we were in the car on our way back from a trip and she started talking about him. She asked me again why and how John died and what that meant. I think the depth of the subject really hit home for her in a way that it hadn't the year before and she became hysterical. I had to pull over on the side of the road and sit down with her and console her as she processed everything. She was absolutely devastated about her uncle leaving her, she missed him so much. I think she realized too that if he died then her parents could die etc. and she expressed a big fear of me or her dad dying. It was pretty intense, and the subject came up a few more times after that.
So OP, I think you're doing fine. Just hug him a lot, let him get it out, and listen to him and reassure him. Poor little kid it's hard to see them hurting so much.
Thank you everybody for your replies. He fell asleep not long after I posted. He's doing ok this morning. Still wants to look at pictures of Papaw, but isn't crying about it. I thought we could make a little poster of pictures of DS and FIL, with stickers of things FIL liked, but DS doesn't want to do that right now. I'm sure in a day or two he'll think it's a great idea.
I hope I can help him work through his grief and come to some sort of peace with losing his Papaw. I can't imagine what that's like for a kid, since I never went through it myself.
my dd still grieves her gpa 2 years later. little things set her off. like a particular song girl scouts was performing. every single time she would cry. bam!!! suddenly in the middle of things she gets silent and big tears pour down her cheeks. she misses her gpa. and i think that's v. healthy. they shared a v. v. close relationship.
however she never had her emotions bottled up. she was involved with his care and was holding his hand as he passed. while we got busy she sat with gpa and read to him thru tears.
at TG and xmas she remembers him at the table and raises a toast to him. oh it brings tears to my eyes just thinking how much she does mourn him and how sweetly she remembers him.
i do nothing but rock her and hold her if that's what she wants. sometimes we both just sit in silence. but we do celebrate his life too. sometimes we invite him to join us for dinner and spend a long time laughing over memories. i dont really do pictures because that makes it a little more harder on dd. but i read to him the books gpa used to read to her. sometimes we get a little thing - like a rock adn say its for gpa and then put it in our garden. mainly we still talk about gpa and about what he would have liked or not.
so even though gpa is not with us in person he is still with us in spirit and we still share all our important occasions with him.
gpa was failing hte last 5 months of his life and dd became his assistant caregiver. so she saw it coming. however it was still v. painful for her.
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