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Kids and Grief

August 1, 2016 - Stacey Sacco
Over the last two months, I have experienced my own wild range of emotions as I grieve the loss of my mom. As much as I would like to sometimes, I don’t get to wallow in my own grief. I have four young children who are also processing this loss as best as their age and understanding will allow.

Matthias remembers when his great-grandmother died four years ago. Otherwise, their lives have been blessedly untouched by profound loss. I fully realize that every child and family is not so lucky. We try to shelter our children from the worst of the world as long as we can, but when something like sickness and death invades our families uninvited, we have to deal with the circumstances we are in. It doesn’t matter the age or developmental understanding of our little ones, they will have to process this the best they can at the time.

My parents have nine grandchildren, age four months to ten years. They each deal with this differently now and will continue to in the future. Just in our household, I have seen each child react differently. While it’s comforting to know that they feel they can talk to me about their Nana, it’s difficult to know how to best comfort that particular child because his or her needs are so unique.

You might assume that Iris would be the easiest since she is only two, but sometimes she is the one that is hardest for me to deal with. My mom was with me when I found out she was a girl. She was one of the first people to see Iris outside my body. Yet, Iris will have no actual memories of her Nana who adored her. We will have to create memories for her. She repeats things her siblings say about “miss Nana” and “Nana died” and she still yells her name when she sees her picture. However, she no longer walks around the house talking on a play phone to Nana. There is nothing to say to make a two year old understand what happened. At some point when she is older, I’m sure she will process this loss, but it won’t be the same because it will be a loss of someone she doesn’t remember, which is something we can never replace for her.

Anelise is the one that frequently talks about how she and others feel. She will ask me if I’m sad that Nana died. She is exploring how she is and should be feeling about this. She has asked what would happen to her if her Dad and I both died, which I wish was something my four year old never had to think about. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to her about why people die, why we are sad, and why we can look forward to seeing them again. She has a lot of questions since her little brain works so fast.

Justus, who is generally my most emotional and volatile, has thus far, taken it in stride. Not to say he hasn’t been sad or confused, but he seems to have a perspective the rest of us struggle to see. He is able to see his Nana as healthy and happy in heaven. He has never for a moment doubted that she is joyful and well-cared for now. Somehow, this six year old can harness and rest comfortably in a peace the rest of his household longs for. My mom would be so proud of him. She could see the amazing faith and confident hidden behind his energy and chaos. I have a feeling she would not be surprised that he is a comfort to us all.

Talking to Matthias makes me walk the line between giving too much information and not enough. He knows what happened and that our family has changed. He is sad and can understand what death means. But this is really the first time he has experienced any of the emotions that come with loss. His feelings most closely resemble those of an adult, although they are still very different. Sometimes he cries. Sometimes he says nothing. He recently taped a picture of himself and Nana to his bedroom wall. Sometimes he wants to talk about his memories and sometimes he doesn’t. He has asked if the fact that my mom had cancer means that I will have cancer. He makes connections that the younger kids don’t yet. Of the four, he has struggled the most.

Having four kids has kept me busy and focused which has been a blessing the past few months. At the same time, they have struggled and questioned things small kids should never have to. And I have to help them navigate all of these emotions. While I’m sure I’m not doing it all right, I do want them to know that their Nana would hold them and cry with them and then tell them how amazing heaven is and that she will be there to give them the grand tour.


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