My friend went to heaven this week. Oddly I feel a great sense of peace and sadness at the same time.
I have watched Roger Evans battle cancer for 3 years. For anyone who knew Roger, he was an amazing fighter. Through it all, he maintained such a positive attitude. He continued to be a faithful witness to all he came into contact with. He was a great husband, incredible dad, loving pappy, encouraging coach, and loyal friend to so many. However; when I’m honest, I sometimes question God’s sovereign plan. I know that I have the hope of knowing I will see Coach Evans again someday, but I am saddened that he isn’t here anymore. If it is difficult for me, as an adult, to grasp the loss of my friend, how much more difficult it must be for children.
July Blore, from her article, How to Help a Grieving Child, worded my thoughts so eloquently, “An adult can know that the pain felt in death is temporary. The Lord is faithful and will not leave or forsake you. But a child may not yet know any of these things. A child may not have the ability to step back and look at the present events from an eternal perspective. A child may lack the resources to handle such pain and confusion.”
How Age Affects the Grieving Process
It is our responsibility as adults to help our children navigate the grieving process. Yet, when we ourselves may be struggling, how do we guide our children?
First, I think it is important to understand that every developmental age will deal with grief a little bit differently. The age of your children determines their comprehension of death. Each stage requires a different perspective.
- Younger children, ages 4-6, have difficulty processing that a loved one is permanently gone. In their mind, death is reversible. As a parent, you may have to confirm that the loved one is not returning several times for the reality to sink in.
- Early Elementary children, ages 6-10, can understand that death is permanent but they fear death and therefore need reassurance. Their insecurities cause them to be fearful of losing other family members and ultimately worry about who would care for them.
- Tween children, ages 10-12, can understand that death is very real and personal. At this age, they desire affection, but may also be embarrassed by it.
- Teenage children, 13 and older, will often try to assume the adult role. They fully understand the permanency of death, but they don’t always know how to express their emotions. As the parent, encourage communication with your child.
(Focus on the Family writer T. Suzanne Eller, Healthy Grief)
Guiding Children Through the Grieving Process
Knowing that each age will mourn and understand death differently, it is necessary that you as a parent take an active role in helping them overcome their grief. The following information was taken from Focus on the Family writer Candy Arrington in an article titled, How to Help your Child Grieve.
- Teach that death is part of life. Parents often avoid talking about death in an effort to protect children from unpleasantness. Instead, look for teachable moments. Wilting flowers, changing seasons or the death of a family pet provides an opportunity to show death as a part of life. Visit elderly friends or relatives to show children that aging is normal. Children will accept and confront death if adults allow it.
- Be honest. Present the information in a straightforward manner with age-appropriate information by explaining, "Granddad died last night." Avoid saying, "He went to sleep" or "He's gone away." These terms leave children wondering if they will die when they go to sleep or if the person is coming back.
- Don't delay telling about a death. Delaying can do more harm than good. If you wait, someone else may tell your child or he will overhear it in conversation. Learning the news from you is less frightening.
- Answer questions. Some children are satisfied with the facts. Others will ask a multitude of questions. Allow questions and answer them, even admitting when you don't have the answer.
- Recognize fears. Death can be a scary concept for children. If your child expresses fear about seeing the body or going to the funeral, don't force the issue. Comfort and reassure your child following a death of somebody he knows.
- Let them see you grieve. Children need to know that grieving is acceptable. Allow children to see you cry. Emotional pain is part of losing a loved one.
- Cherish the memories. Continue to talk about the loved one who died. Look through photo albums, talk about funny things the deceased said or reminisce about pleasant experiences.
This last one is my favorite. I know that we all have our favorite memories of Coach Evans whether it be in a PE class, on the field, or just the day to day banter with him. One of my happiest memories is of him cheering on his Alabama football team. I am truly a Gator fan, but I think I will always have a smile on my face as I cheer for his beloved Alabama team. Roll Tide!!!
We, as Christians, truly are not like those who grieve without hope.
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