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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 may have experienced what I 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 destroyed. My mom and dad were so upset that they just couldn’t talk about what happened or about my sister who died. They couldn’t talk about the tragic loss that made a huge dent in their lives to such an extent that in the next 15+ years my sister’s name was mentioned less than a few times. My mother died last year, 30 years after my sister, and neither of us 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 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 resulted in me.
My sister’s sudden death was so shocking that I have very few memories of her – in the weeks after her death I blocked out Christmas which was just 9 days before she died. I still haven’t recovered those memories.
When my sister died it was chaos on a physical and emotional level as we moved to stay with my grandparents for a few weeks. In one evening my whole life was turned upside down and I barely remember those early days. Life was about organizing the funeral. The church was packed with friends, family and almost everyone from the school my sister went to. It was an overwhelming experience. I still remember my father struggling to hold back his tears as we stood in the church during the service.
After my sister was buried, that was. The talk and appeasement that hasn’t happened until now hasn’t happened yet. I was overwhelmed with grief and emotions, and yet they were not dealt with. Days and weeks and months passed in silence. I began to accept on some level that we weren’t going to talk about what happened. I was left with only my own thoughts as a resource – my school friends were even instructed by the teachers not to talk to me about my sister. I was all alone and I couldn’t understand the silence. However there seemed to be no way to break it. I didn’t know what to say. And as time went by, 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 forgot her. Maybe they didn’t love her. And if they didn’t love her, then they didn’t love me either. Without emotional or physical reassurance (we weren’t a family that hugged or told each other we loved them) I felt like 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 my parent’s silence, but it also deeply affected my self-worth and self-love. I started to hate myself. The pain was just overwhelming.
I didn’t see my parents doing anything wrong or being negligent because I didn’t feel abused. They did the best they could, and no one can do more than that.
I’m still working on these things from my childhood. It is a long and lonely journey and while I no longer hate myself, I am quick to judge myself and have suffered from long bouts of depression my whole life.
Today there are more resources available to those experiencing childhood loss. In 1980 my parents were left to fend for 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 adult conversation rather than play with my sisters, I was a responsible child, organizing my own homework, driving myself 8 miles across town to school every day – and so my family saw me as “big”. however inside, emotionally, I was still a child. And while I needed love and nurturing and someone to talk to in this saddest time, I wasn’t getting that, my emotional needs weren’t 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, then make sure that the needs of your surviving children are met. This may not be easy to determine, especially if they are normally quiet and don’t share much. However, you need to make sure that a supply is in place for your child if they need it. It could be asking one of their friends (if your child is 11 years or older) to watch over them, or it could be asking a close family member or friend to make a special time for them where they have the freedom to talk if they want to. It could simply be doing things as a family and reassuring everyone of how much they are loved in a tangible way (buying toys doesn’t count!). Look for resources in your local area or online that can help. Grief and grief is not only difficult for you, but also for your children. If you can’t help them, find someone who can.
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