Teaching Kids to Deal with Loss
I originally posted this article in 2013, after the loss of my 14 year constant companion.
In the aftermath of losing my beloved dog, I have been absolutely distraught. I go from being fine but slightly sad, to silent tears to outright sobbing. The only way to keep from thinking about my dear dog is to keep busy. During class, I am ok but as soon as I sit down to eat lunch, the emotions come flooding back. I can keep the grieving to silent tears when the kids are around but then I lie in my bed crying like a baby after the kids have been tucked in.
My husband had been exceptionally supportive. He is not an animal person and has “tolerated” my Old Lady these past nine years. So I have been pleasantly surprised and grateful for his loving empathy and understanding during this process.
The kids have been as comforting as they can be, giving me lots of hugs and massages or simply ignoring me as the tears flow quietly down my cheeks. In short, everyone in my household has been great as I have fallen apart while trying to keep everything going.
And then, there is my mother. She has been supportive in her way and has offered words of encouragement. Assuring me that I provided Old Lady with a great life and lots of love. But then she admonishes me to be strong for the kids. In Mom-speak, that means no crying and no showing of emotion. In fact, from mom’s point of view, one should never show emotions for anything. You should just suck it up and move on. With everything life throws at you. This is the woman who faced a triple negative breast cancer diagnosis, months of chemo, radiation and a double mastectomy with stony-faced stoicism. At least she practices what she preaches.
Having grown up being told that showing emotions is tantamount to showing weakness (by both parents, actually), I have chosen to raise my kids differently. Sure, emotions have to be managed and the kids must understand when and where showing emotion is appropriate. However, they should feel perfectly comfortable crying in the comfort of their own home and in the privacy of their own rooms. They should have those people in their lives who can comfort them and lovingly empathize with whatever they are experiencing. They should feel comfortable showing vulnerability. And they should be able to comfort and console others in return.
So as I mourn the loss of my dog, I hope that I can provide an example to my kids that:
1. There is nothing shameful or weak about needing to cry
2. When we love people we can comfort them when they are sad, even if we don’t understand their loss
3. Showing vulnerability is OK around people who love us
4. Even if we are sad, we still do have to go about our daily activities
5. When we lose someone we love, we can remember and grieve for them, but life goes on and we will eventually feel better.