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The Long Term Effects of Not Supporting Children Through Their Grief and Grieving Process
I can only speak from my own experience. That’s all I know. Others may have experienced what I experienced in a different way with different results, but this is what happened to me.
My 7 year old sister died in an accident when I was 12. My whole family has been devastated. My mom and dad were so distraught that they couldn’t talk about what happened or my sister who passed away. They were unable to talk about the tragic loss that brought their lives to a close, so much so that over the next 15+ years, my sister’s name was rarely mentioned. My mom passed away last year, 30 years after my sister, and neither of us talked about what happened to my sister. It remains a taboo topic, buried in our minds and consciousness.
At the age of twelve, I was in the midst of early puberty and teenage years, and the normal anxieties that came with it were overwhelmed by the death of my sister and the subsequent emotional turmoil within me.
My sister’s sudden death was so shocking that I had very little memory of her – within a few weeks of her passing, I blocked out Christmas that happened 9 days before her death. I haven’t recovered those memories yet.
When my sister died, we moved in with my grandparents for a few weeks and there was physical and emotional chaos. One night my whole life turned upside down and I barely remember those early days. Life is about organizing funerals. The church was packed with friends, family, and pretty much everyone at the school my sister attended. It was an overwhelming experience. I still remember my dad trying to hold back tears as we stood in church during services.
Once my sister was buried, that was it. The talk and comfort that have never happened, still haven’t happened. I was overwhelmed with grief and emotions, but they were not resolved. Days, weeks and months passed in silence. I’m starting to accept on a level that we won’t talk about what happened. I was left with my own thoughts to deal with – teachers even instructed my school friends not to talk to me about my sister. I was all on my own and could not understand the silence. But there doesn’t seem to be a way to break it. I do not know what to say. As time went on, I started thinking that if my parents stopped talking about Simone, maybe it was because she wasn’t that important. Perhaps they had forgotten her. Maybe they don’t love her. If they don’t love her, they don’t love me either. With no emotional or physical reassurance (we’re not a family to hug or tell each other we love them) I feel like I have nothing to say that it’s not true. So I’m starting to believe this. Now, not only do I have to deal with the silence of losing my sister and my parents, but it has deeply affected my self-worth and self-love. I started to hate myself. The pain was unbearable.
I don’t think my parents did anything wrong or were negligent because I didn’t feel abused. They did their best and no one could have done more.
I’m still working through these issues from my childhood. It’s been a long, lonely journey, and while I don’t hate myself anymore, I’m quick to judge myself and have suffered from chronic depression all my life.
Today, more resources are available to those who have lost a child. In 1980, my parents had to deal with it alone. My surviving sister did go to counseling for a few weeks, but I got nothing. At 12, I was caught between the worlds of adults and children. I would choose to have adult conversations instead of hanging out with my sisters, I’m a responsible kid doing my own homework and crossing the city 8 miles to school every day – so my family thinks I’m “grown up” ’, but deep down, emotionally, I was a child. While I needed love and nourishment and someone to talk to during this saddest time, I was not getting it, my emotional needs were not being met.
I share this because I want to raise your awareness on this issue. If you have lost a child, make sure the needs of your surviving child are being met. This may not be easy to determine, especially if they are generally quiet and share infrequently. However, you need to make sure that your child is provided with the necessary services. It might be asking one of their friends (if your child is 11 or older) to watch them, or it might be asking a close family member or friend to set up some special time for them to talk freely as they want. It can simply do things as a family and reassure everyone in a tangible way how much they are loved (buying toys doesn’t count!). Find local or online resources that can help. Sadness and grief are difficult not only for you, but for your children as well. If you can’t help them, find someone who can.
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