I remember sitting in the waiting room, being held by a nurse that I had just met, weeping over what was taking place in the room next to me. My mother was finishing her race and would soon be called home by the Lord.
I was scared.
I was lonely.
I was sad.
I was 11 years old.
The years following my mother’s death were some of the darkest of my life. I lacked a proper view of God and did not know how to grieve in a healthy way.
I’ve come to the realization that death is a certainty that each of us will face, yet we know very little about how to navigate seasons of grief. This is true for adults, but it is especially true for children who lack maturity and life experience. My aim is to provide parents and caregivers with some helpful thoughts around helping children grieve, from the perspective of a child who was faced with this reality.
Not all children will lose a parent, but all will experience some level of grief during their childhood, whether it be the loss of a grandparent, a friend or even a pet. Not all levels of grieving will be equal, but the principles for dealing with grief can apply across a range of experiences. Although my suggestions are not exhaustive, I pray they may help parents prepare their kids to grieve in ways that heal.
Grieve with your children.
We know from the prophet Isaiah that Jesus understands grief and sorrow. The gospel of John records that upon learning of the passing of His friend, Lazarus, “Jesus wept.” It is the shortest verse in the Bible, yet one of the most powerful. In this moment, Jesus gives us a glimpse into His humanity. He grieved with His followers. As parents, we need to grieve with our children. Modeling sadness will reassure your children that it’s okay to express their sorrow. By grieving in front of them, you are inviting them to grieve, as well.
Don't feel like you need to have all the answers.
Don’t believe the lie that you need to have a comprehensive answer for every “why.” It’s okay to say, “I don’t know, but Jesus does. He is good, and we need to cling to Him when we are hurting.” We must be faithful to remind our children of the “who”—that Jesus understands our grief and He is near to the brokenhearted. God is a protector, and He will never leave us. Hope is found in Christ, and the Lord is gracious and merciful.
Talk with your children about their feelings.
As parents, many times our immediate thought is how we can keep the family afloat or return everything back to normal. The reality is, life as you knew it is no more, and we cannot gloss over the loss. Encouraging your children to talk about their feelings, both good and bad, will allow you to acknowledge that these feelings are normal and valid. It will also allow you to point them to the truth of Scripture. Where our feelings will often lead us astray, we must be faithful to rest in the truth of God’s Word.
Know that some children will need time to be able to verbalize what they are feeling. This doesn't mean they don’t have any feelings, but they may not be able to put them into words. The most important thing they need to know is that you are available and willing to talk when they are ready.
Use grief to teach your children the gospel.
God is sovereign, and our children need to know this truth when their circumstances or feelings may seem to tell them otherwise. Grief provides an opportunity to point our children to the truth that God is good and does what is good. The cross is our example. God sent His only Son to live perfectly and die horribly but also to be raised to life and seated at the right hand of the Father. Though the outward circumstance was terrifying and sad, God ultimately used it to bring about Christ’s exaltation and our salvation.
I pray that as parents we enter into these difficult conversations with our children, trusting the Lord. Solomon tells us that there is a time for everything, including mourning. May we be faithful to disciple our children through all times and seasons, especially those that are hard.