My children hate seeing me sad or mad. They want me to be happy, to smile. They need to know that I’m okay, because if I’m okay, their world is okay.
But what about the times it isn’t okay? What happens when the walls cave in and the heart explodes and ache can’t be hidden? What then? How do I grieve in front of my children without putting it on them?
Sometimes we carry our own childhood fears and experiences into our parenting without realizing it, and other times we are quite aware of it and we make vows to protect ourselves and our children. We believe we’re protecting them, but perhaps it’s possible we’re avoiding the opportunity to teach them about pain and grief and how to express it all. We need to teach our kids how to be human, how to feel and process and not hide, how to be naked and unashamed in our grief.
There’s wisdom in being aware and not laying our heavy burdens on little hearts that are not ready, but I think it’s good and helpful and kind to let our children see our humanity and our grief and how to deal with it in healthy ways.
After my mother died, I decided to let my children in on my grief.
I sat my children down and explained to them that I was sad about Grandma Suzy and that at times they were going to see me cry. I told them I was okay, that it was normal to be sad, and that they didn’t have to worry about me or be afraid. I told them that showing sadness was nothing to be ashamed of. I then hugged each of my kiddos and told them how very much I loved them.
And then, when the grief hit randomly, I cried. I didn’t hide from them. I wanted them to see the reality of grief so that one day, when they grieve, they would know it’s not shameful or ugly or something to hide or run from. They would know it’s a part of life, of the human experience, of sin and death in this world and also of the hope that one day there will be no more grieving or death, no tears or broken hearts. I wanted them to know it’s okay to feel when they need to feel, cry when they need to cry, and scream into their pillow when the pain is too great and their whole body might explode from the fire of it all.
They can’t learn how to do that if I hide it from them.
One thing I didn’t anticipate in my grieving was the blessing of comfort my children would give me. My youngest daughter, who was seven at the time of my mom’s death, felt with me. One afternoon, during that first week of grieving, I was going through pictures of my mom, and I started crying. My sweet little girl, who knew this was okay and normal and not going to last forever, held a little fabric angel in her hands that hospice had given me. She was looking at it and at me, and she began to cry gently. She was feeling my ache. She came over, sat on my lap, and hugged me. We cried together, weeping over the loss of Grandma Susy. Did my girl feel her own pain at the loss of her grandma? I’m sure she did, but she didn’t really know my mom since she was only a toddler when my mom had moved away. But she felt grieved anyway, and it was so dear.
Afterwards, we wiped our eyes, kissed, and carried on. We were okay together.
The gift of a child’s comfort, I am convinced, is straight from the heart of God, their little arms showing us His arms. The comfort of a child is both overwhelming and healing.
This is the gift of grief: healing comfort is experienced through the tender intimacy of shared vulnerability. And to experience this gift with your child is nothing short of precious and a rare grace.
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NLT)