Grief and Regret
While it’s never easy to sit with a grieving child’s pain, it can be especially so when they are struggling with feelings of guilt and regret. When someone dies, it’s almost inevitable that we’ll think back over our relationship with them and find ourselves at fault for something we said, did, or didn’t say or do. We might also wrestle with thoughts of responsibility for not being able to prevent or anticipate the death. When we hear similar thoughts and wonderings from children it can be especially heartbreaking.
When children come to us with their guilt and regret, often our first impulse is to dismiss or try to take away their feelings. Maybe you’ve heard yourself saying things like:
- “Don’t feel that way”
- “Hush, you know that’s not true.”
- “You couldn’t have known”
- “It’s not your fault”
This urge to help children stop feeling guilt and regret comes from a loving place. We don’t want to see children burdened with additional suffering. We might also be struggling with similar thoughts, which makes it even harder to hear them from our children. So, what can you do to help in this situation? Start with reminding yourself that listening is one of the most caring and supportive things you can do. Creating space for children to talk about challenging emotions builds trust and demonstrates that you are able to be there for them, no matter what they are wrestling with.
Grief and Valentine’s Day
When it comes to grief and holidays, especially at this time of year, it can feel hard to catch a break. After getting through the winter holidays with their emphasis on family, there is barely a moment to get your bearings before Valentine’s Day surfaces on the horizon. Even if you’ve never really felt connected to Valentine’s Day, advertisements and casual conversations about plans can leave you feeling isolated or eager to flee.
If you’re looking for help, Episode 05 of the Dear Dougy podcast is full of strategies for approaching Valentine’s Day when you are carrying both love and grief in your heart.
Marking the New Year
Grief can radically change how we approach and feel about the holiday season. During the lead up to the season, there can be a lot of attention given to the family-focused holidays such as Thanksgiving, Chanukah, and Christmas. With so much energy put towards those holidays, New Year’s can sneak up on people, especially families with children. While most holidays are associated with memories and traditions shared with the person who died, New Year’s adds a different twist: a visible, concrete marker of the passing of time. 2016 may be the first year that the person who died will never experience. Maybe 2015 was filled with painful memories: diagnoses, treatment, receiving news of someone’s death, funerals, etc. If it’s been many years since someone died, having the passing of time marked so tangibly can also be difficult. We hear people say, “I can’t believe it’s been three years.” “This is one more year my dad won’t be here for.” For some, the previous year was one of major milestones and celebrations (weddings, graduations, new jobs, birth of children, etc.) without the physical presence of the person who died. It can be heartbreaking to review the year, noting everything that a loved one missed.
The importance of self-care while grieving
Even though grief is a full spectrum experience that affects us on multiple levels, the emotional impact tends to get the most press, with descriptions of people experiencing sadness, anger, and isolation. The physical, cognitive, and behavioral effects can often come as a shock, leaving people confused and overwhelmed by reactions that aren’t as well known. For many people, grief interrupts their sleep, appetite, ability to concentrate, and physical health. This is why it’s so important to cultivate care and support that addresses each of these realms. At The Dougy Center, we provide children and teens with a variety of outlets for expression including music, art, dramatic play, and physical activity. If you are grieving, or know someone who is, it can be helpful to think through how to best nurture the body and mind.