It hits us like a ton of bricks from out of nowhere. That feeling of a punch right to the stomach or a lump in your throat. Shock, disbelief, intense sorrow, and even anger—they all show up and wreck our thoughts, heart, and daily rhythms.
These are all the things that come to mind when I think about grief.
Most of us moms out here have experienced some form of grief in our lives, regardless of our age. Whether we have faced the death of a close family member, divorce, infidelity, loss of employment, unexpected medical reports, or any number of upsetting life events, we know how grief can come swiftly and destroy our day-to-day life.
As a mom, I have felt the weight of grief in the past. I have also felt the unrelenting sadness, guilt, and frustration that follows when I realize how my grief is affecting my daily life and responsibilities. I have three kids to homeschool and care for, a husband that needs me, a home in disarray, no food in the pantry, no clean clothes, and to-do list a mile long.
Where can you find time to process grief in the midst of all of that? Do you hide it from your kids and sob in private? Should you let it all out in front of them? Do you stay in bed for days? Do you ask for help or handle it privately? How can you deal with grief in a healthy way? How can your children also process what is happening?
To help us answer these difficult questions surrounding grief in our homes, I reached out to a local counselor that specializes in children and adolescents.
Amber Brewer, MA, LPC, NCC works with children, teens, and families as they process grief and other strong emotions in their homes and personal lives. She says that parents often struggle to effectively deal with grief in their homes, especially when children are present. Many families fall into the “all-or-nothing” category of handling grief. They either hide it completely and shut it all inside, or they let everything out in a flash flood of emotion.
She recommends trying to maintain a balance between these two responses. It is important to be as honest as you can with your children about how you feel and the circumstances surrounding the pain, based on their ages and level of development. This helps them to see you model appropriate grief management, as well as giving them the reasons you might be sad, mad, or struggling more than usual with daily tasks. If you don’t tell them something to explain why you are exhibiting these visible changes, then they will make assumptions about what is wrong that are usually off-base.
She also stresses that modeling open communication for every member of the family is key.
As moms, we have to let our kids know that they can tell us how they are feeling openly and honestly as they, too, process sadness and grief. Modeling that with your own feelings in an age-appropriate way is so important.
Younger children, typically five years and under, cannot cognitively understand abstract ideas such as life and death. It might help to tell them something like, “I know you might have noticed that Mommy is crying or sad today. I’m sorry if I seem frustrated or angry with you too. This is not because of you, though. It is just because I really miss (family member), and it makes me sad. I know that (family member) is not hurting any more, and that they are in a better place.”
She recommends following the following simple, but necessary, steps to accomplish this in your home.
Seek counseling for yourself and other family members. She mentioned that there can be a stigma associated with counseling, especially in the South. it is important to remember that mental health care is just as important as check-ups and treatment for physical health. “Maintenance care” is essential when dealing with grief and trauma.
2. Open Communication
Talk with your family members about your feelings and emotions, and allow them to do the same without fear or shame. Going through the five stages of grief is important, and it often looks differently for each family member.
3. Lean on friends
Healthy friendships provide needed outlets for unfiltered grief expression and support. Let friends help and love you where you are right now.
4. Practice Self-Care and Wellness
Be sure you take care of yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Drink water, eat healthy foods, go for a walk, take a hot bath, have a date night. It can also be important to spend time alone to openly cry and process the harder side of the emotions. Give yourself grace as you deal with regular life and grief at the same time.
**For your children, watch for signs of deeper distress such as anger, defiance, and withdrawal, as these can be early signs of depression. Reach out to a counselor or pediatrician to get help for your child sooner rather than later.**
5. Grief Support Groups
Last but not least, find resources available in your area for support and community. Many local churches offer grief support groups for adults that can be helpful.
Grief can feel like a mountain you can never get over or a crushing weight. Don’t try to climb it alone, and don’t hide away silently suffocating. Practice healthy emotional balance and communication; and be sure to make use of resources and professionals that can help you on the journey to healing.