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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. This is all I know. Others have experienced what I have 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 years old. My whole family was devastated. My mom and dad were so distraught that they just couldn’t talk about what had happened or about my sister who died. They couldn’t talk about the tragic loss that made a huge dent in their lives to the extent that over the next 15+ years my sister’s name was mentioned less than a handful of times. My mother died last year, 30 years after my sister, and none of us have ever talked about what happened to my sister. It is still a taboo subject, buried both in our minds and in our consciousness.
At twelve years old I was in early adolescence and the teenage years and the normal angst that goes with them were buried under the weight of my sister’s death and the emotional chaos that was created within me.
My sister’s sudden death was so shocking that I have very few memories of her – within weeks of her passing I had ruled out Christmas which happened just 9 days before she died. I still haven’t recovered those memories.
When my sister died there was chaos on a physical and emotional level as we moved to stay with my grandparents for some weeks. In one evening my whole life was turned upside down and I hardly remember those early days. Life was about organizing the funeral. The church was packed with friends, family and just about everyone from the school my sister went to. It was an overwhelming experience. I remember my father struggling to hold back his tears as we stood in the church during the service.
Once my sister was buried, that was it. The talking and the reassurance that hadn’t happened until now didn’t come yet. I was overwhelmed with grief and emotions, and yet they were not addressed. Days and weeks and months passed in silence. I began to accept on some level that we weren’t going to talk about what had happened. I was left with only my own thoughts as a way to cope – my school friends had even been instructed not to talk to me about my sister. I was completely alone and I couldn’t understand the silence. Yet there seemed to be no way to break it. I didn’t know what to say. And as time went on, I started to think that if my parents didn’t talk about Simone anymore, maybe it was because she wasn’t that important. Maybe they had forgotten her. Maybe they didn’t love her. And if they don’t love her, they don’t love me either. With no emotional or physical reassurance (we weren’t a family who hugged or told each other we loved them) I felt I had nothing to say that this wasn’t true. So I started to believe that. Now I was not only dealing with the loss of my sister, and the silence of my parent, but it also deeply affected my own self-esteem and self-love. I started to hate myself. The pain was simply overwhelming.
I didn’t see my parents doing anything wrong or being negative because I didn’t feel abused. They did the best they could, and no one can do more than that.
I am still working through these issues from my childhood. It’s a long and lonely journey and although I don’t hate myself anymore, I’m quick to judge myself and have suffered from depression all my life.
Today, there are more resources available to those experiencing child loss. In 1980, my parents had to do it themselves. My surviving sister did have some counseling for a few weeks, but I got nothing. At the age of 12 I was caught between the worlds of the adult and the child. I would choose to engage in conversation with adults instead of playing with my sisters, I was a responsible child, organized my own homework, walked myself 8 miles across town to school every day – and that’s how my family saw me as ‘grown up’ ‘, still inside, emotionally, I was still a child. And although I needed love and nurturing and someone to talk to at this most sad time, I wasn’t getting that, my emotional needs were not being met.
I am sharing this because I want to raise your awareness about this issue. If you have suffered the loss of a child, make sure that the needs of your surviving children are met. This may not be easy to determine, especially if they are usually quiet and don’t share much. However, you must ensure that provision is in place for your children when they need it. It could be asking one of their friends (if your child is 11 years or older) to watch for them, or it could be asking a close family member or friend to make some special time for them where they have freedom to talk if they want. It can just do things as a family and reassure everyone of how much they are loved in a tangible way (buying toys doesn’t count!). Find resources in your local area or online that can help. Grief and grief is difficult not only for you, but also for your child. If you can’t help them, find someone who can.
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