Written by Teresa Bartnicki, LPC-Intern, The WARM Place Counselor
As parents, our initial reaction to grief is to protect our children from the uncomfortable feelings, pain and discomfort that follow the death of a loved one. We want to surround our children with a protective bubble that grief cannot penetrate. We want them to emerge from their losses unscathed, unchanged, and “safe.” It’s easy to imagine all the negative things that might result from unexpected and unfair losses early in life. Rarely when we are in the throes of grief do we entertain the idea that something beautiful might emerge from the storm. How could our precious children possibly endure such tragedy and come out better than before?
As a grief counselor and the mother of a grieving child, I can share with you the other side of grief; the side that you don’t think about in the immediate aftermath of a loss; the side that might not emerge until many seasons after loss. I have seen children attending The WARM Place grow stronger during their time here. I have seen them transform through their grief, often into wiser and more compassionate children than their non-grieving peers. I have often heard grieving children affectionately referred to as “Old Souls.” They seem to have an understanding and appreciation for life that surpasses their chronological years. They embrace the moment, live life more fully and have less tolerance for trivial things. Their loss reminds them that others have experienced loss, too. Many of them return to The WARM Place as facilitators or house parents. They have purpose. They often light the way for others. They develop a strength and resilience that is only attainable through their own personal struggles.
People often ask me how I can possibly do the work that I do. They want to know, “Isn’t it depressing?” Yes, it still pains me to see children experience the loss of a loved one so early in life. However, along with the heart ache that comes with my role as a grief counselor, I also recognize the gifts. Grieving children learn important life lessons in grief that many of their peers don’t learn until much later in life. They learn that life is unpredictable and nothing is guaranteed. More importantly, they learn that they have the strength to embrace the difficult times in life and thrive.
As parents, it is our job to let our children embrace their challenges and practice flexing their muscles. When we convey to our children that we believe in their ability to handle difficulties, we empower them. Practice being an advocate and ally for your grieving child. Try to listen to them without judging, discounting or fixing things for them. Let them know that you believe in them and love them unconditionally. Teach them how to practice self-care. In doing so, you will help build the foundation for your grieving child to grow into the strong and beautiful person they are meant to be.