8 Ways to Walk Beside a Child Living with Loss

Our community lost a wonderful woman this week.  Far too young.  Far too early.  A wife.  A mother to two middle school age boys.  A friend to many.  She was a kind & loving woman who fought cancer with as much tenacity & ferociousness as any woman can.  She will be missed.

My mind & my heart have been on those two boys since I heard.  Her two sons.  I have stood in a similar place to where they stand & I know the road ahead well.   To lose a parent while you’re still a child.  It will be a steeper climb at times than they had hoped.  It will be a place not traveled by too many.  It will hold with it grief in unexpected places & times for the remainder of their days.

Grief.  That overwhelming heaviness of loss.  Even with the hope of Heaven and our Redeemer, grief is a place we all will sit after a loss.  And for kids, grieving can be a place of not only sadness but of confusion and unsettledness.  Kids need adults to walk alongside them to help them navigate the waters of grief.

Eight Ways to Walk Beside a Child Living with Loss

8 ways to walk beside a child

  • Love them ::  this seems 100% obvious & likely the most pointless piece of advice you’ve ever read.  But it is the most important piece of advice & everything else flows from this one thing.  Love them not because they’ve lost a parent, not because it is so sad what they have to go through, not because you can’t imagine their hardship.  Love them because they are worthy of love simply because they are God’s.  And love them while they are hardest to love.
  • Provide patience ::  Working out our faith and understanding of God’s character is tough enough as an adult.  Imagine trying to reconcile the goodness of God with how your life is playing out as an eleven year old.  You’ve been taught that God is good.  But why does a good God take away a parent?  Children need parents.  Why would a good God do this?  These are incredibly difficult questions to wrestle through – at any age.  To a child, this can be nearly impossible.  Patience is vital when talking to a child who’s wrestling through all of this because the Word of God can seem so contradictory to how life has turned out so far.  It may take time to listen {really listen} and time to guide.  It’s the most important time you will ever spend.  Valuable time invested in a child with a broken heart & a need to know who God really is in all of it.  And please know it’s always ok to say you don’t know.  Because may times you don’t.
  • Give them an extra helping of grace :: Kids who’ve lost a parent will be waging an internal struggle the likes of which most children never have to fight.  They may be emotional, they may talk a lot, they might never talk, they might be angry or tearful or clingy or rebellious.  They may not be the easiest of kids to get along with…their battle is real & their skills to fight it are young & inexperienced.  Direct them in the way they should go and give them some extra grace…and hugs!
  • Remember they are blaming themselves :: Dr. Phil has gotten this correct, “kids have an amazing ability to make everything their fault.”  True!   Kids can rationalize that everything is their fault.  And they will.  The weight of that on their little shoulders is spirit breaking.  It makes no logical sense to an adult because no adult would imagine that the child is taking the blame, but believe me, they are.  Inside they are struggling to understand what they did to cause it & then figuring out how to repair the damages or make sure they’re “better” going forward so it never happens again.  A heavy weight to drag through life.  Take time to assure kids that it is not their fault.  This didn’t happen because of something they did or didn’t do.  Tell them they did nothing wrong.  Use that language.  Listen if they share how they feel.  Do not minimize their feelings – they are very, very real.
  • Filter your words ::  When you talk, keep in mind the previous tip.  Children will use your words as fuel to fan the fire of blaming themselves.  “You just have to have the faith of a mustard seed” equals “I didn’t have enough faith”.  “God always answers prayers” equals “God didn’t listen to my prayer”.  The result of blaming themselves often is a lower-than-it-should-be self worth.  The words you say, even the most innocent ones, can reinforce these feelings of worthlessness.  They have decided that God doesn’t really like them, that they aren’t worthy of His love.  It is a close second to decide that people don’t really like them either.  It’s a spiral that words can fuel to disaster.  Unspoken body language can be just as devastating.  You don’t have to be perfect, that’s impossible, but try really hard to season your words with kindness, mercy, grace & love.
  • They want to protect others :: A child who is grieving has adults in their life who are grieving too.  Many times a child just wants everyone else to be ok.  We learn early not to be too disruptive.  Children know that getting all upset will likely upset the adults around them.  Many will want to avoid this at all cost.  They tuck things deep inside knowing that to get upset will lead to upset adults & all they are really longing for is some normalcy in the midst of disaster.  Let them know it’s ok to let it out, to cry, to be sad, to say you’re not ok.  It’s ok to feel.  Really ok.  And tell them it’s ok to make others cry too.
  • Talk about the one they lost ::  Children will forget.  How much do you remember about 6th grade?  Those early, carefree years are easily forgotten.  They want nothing more than to know the one they lost, especially a parent.  It may cause them tears.  It might cause you tears.  That’s ok.  They want to hear it, they want to know.  Tell the silly stories, the serious times, the things that drove you crazy.  Tell things you think are insignificant.  They are not.  They may be the most valuable pieces of information they’ve ever heard.  And keep on telling them as the years pass on.  They will need to know.  They want to hear.  Talk.
  • Understand it goes on and on and on :: Grief for kids, especially after the loss of a parents, is forever.  For a child who has experienced loss early in life, death is always a possibility.  They know nothing different than people dying.  This changes something deep inside the core of how the world is seen.  Death is different.  It is real.  It is plausible.  It is known and has been felt and seen and inhaled.  You can never unlearn the feeling.  And the grief goes on.  Less in intensity, less felt but always around.  It bubbles to the surface on the strangest of days, on the oddest of occasions and at the most obvious moments.  Understand that there will be events that will trigger grief – even years and years and years later.  Love the child through it.  Understand that there will be days that will make no sense why grief will drape itself over like a wet towel.  Love the child even though you don’t know why they threw that wet towel back on.  Understand they’ll never get over it, they’ll never fully understand it, they’ll be sad sometimes for the rest of their life.  And love them through it.

As I think of the boys, I think of the people around them.  They’re walking a difficult and confusing road.  They need the adults in their lives to understand where they stand and the way they’re heading.  Love them.  Listen to them.  Tell them the stories and share your memories.  Hand out that extra helping of grace & show them the worth that God has said they possess.  It will change their journey for the better.  And when all else fails – love!

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