Dear MaD advice:
I am a mother of two teens and we have recently had a series of deaths of friends and family. I feel completely inadequate in responding to my own grief and my kids’ grief. How have you handled this?
To parents: Though I have never been a parent, what I do know is how my parents responded to death when I was a child and teenager, and how that helped me grieve, heal and ultimately obtain a more logical and in turn spiritual view of death and the grieving process. You should know that it’s okay to be sad and to admit that you’re sad. Showing your own emotional response in front of your kids allows them to feel secure in their own. What is more important is how you handle your emotions, and choose to cope. The stages of grief are vast - you’re allowed to feel angry, you’re allowed to be in denial and feel despondent, but acting out on those emotions negatively (being short tempered, drinking too much, etc.) is not okay. Sorrow is different for everyone, and there isn’t a right or wrong way to feel when something as monumental as death happens. It takes time, and for some longer than others. Having an open window of communication is imperative, and teaching your kids the proper way to handle these emotions is paramount.
To teens: Our family has been through a lot of deaths as well, and almost all of it happened when I was in my late teens. I will tell you this: the extreme emotion you are feeling - it does pass. And when it does, don’t feel guilty about it. Don’t associate your negative emotion with how much they meant to you, or how close you two were. The fondest memories will stay, and that is what you want to remember. Tears are always welcome, and may surprise you at times. As humans, we’re not always meant to understand our emotions, but rather try our best to turn them into something positive. I like to think that the loved ones I’ve lost would like the 25-year-old Anna, and if they could see me now, they’d be proud of me. Make them proud of you too.
Death is not an easy topic, however it is inevitable for us, and how we deal with it most definitely influences how our children will view it and respond to it. Take into consideration that when you are uncertain or afraid to show your emotions, it causes questions and conflict for those around you. When you have a spiritual belief that defies the finality of death and offers hope, it is easier to discuss. We have experienced two different types of death; one being from old age and the other an unexpected, tragic death. When the body eventually wears out or there is a long and painful illness, we are expecting our loved one to die. This gives us time to be prepared and to have spoken of the upcoming end of life. It doesn’t mean that we lose hope for cure, but we shouldn’t deny our children this opportunity to prepare for death and actually celebrate that person’s life. I always marvel at the way my heart changed from praying for my mother to be cured from cancer at age 51, to praying that she would die and be free from pain. Harder for us to deal with is a tragic death, when there seems to be no immediate explanation. Grief is intense and overwhelming. If we allow ourselves to embrace what we are truly feeling (anger, sadness, loneliness or helplessness), and to speak of that, it is a guide for our children. When speaking to them, don’t necessarily expect a response; listening can be enough. Having a physical reaction (headaches, malaise…) is normal, but keeping each other moving with routine is what makes you and your children feel safe and somewhat sane. My best response in light of these tragic deaths is that we support and express sympathy to those at the core of the loss, we show up even when we feel inadequate, and we also know that we don’t have the answers as to why this happened.
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