Today, I am sharing with you an almost year old post from my personal blog, Keeping Her Cool. This post is the very example of a way you can introduce the concept and respond to the concept of grief with your children. Our first daughter died, and we have chosen to make the grieving process a family affair. However, you do not need to have this type of profound loss in your life in order to nurture the experience of grief in you children. I see it as a gift to work through even the littlest griefs together. It sets children up for the inevitable experience later in life. There are many types of grief, loss of a human life, a pet, a home, a way of life, and in this case, a balloon. We serve our children by naming it, claiming it, and walking with them as we arrive at a new normal.
This morning, the kids and I went to get their pictures taken. After an hour of corralling and acting like a complete ass to try to get a few simultaneous smiles out of the gang, the (almost) four-year-old was awarded a balloon for good behavior (I wonder if they have tried that tactic in prison?). He practiced hanging on tight as we walked through the mall and he was very careful during lunch to make sure his balloon didn’t fly away. As we walked out to the car in the blustery wind, he was sure to remind me that the balloon’s safety was his top priority. Once he was buckled in the car, and I was getting the twins settled and the stroller put away, the balloon got sucked out of the car and blown into the great beyond. Pure devastation.
The ride home was full of tears (Depression), and every other stage of grief.Seriously. He threw the toy car he was holding in his hand, and exclaimed, “I’M MAD!” (Anger). “Maybe the balloon just went under the car.” (Denial). He told me he’d be good if we could go back and get another balloon (Bargaining). By the time we were home, I thought he’d arrived at acceptance, the balloon is gone, and it is not coming back.
We are no strangers to these cycles of grief at our house. We’ve been living them in some fashion or form for the past five years since our first daughter died. The misconception about these stages is that they are linear. They are, in fact, not. One does not arrive at acceptance as the final destination of grief and then go on to live a happy and long life in acceptance. Wouldn’t it be nice? But no, we move fluidly in and out of each of these stages, sometimes staying longer in one, sometimes for years. If we’re lucky (and work really hard), we spend most of our time in acceptance, only because it seems to be the most productive stage.
So, I should have known… Upon entering the house, we began the cycle all over again. Now, here’s where I am never sure if I am making a huge monumental mistake as a parent: I am positive about our choice to introduce our children to the notion of heaven and the reality of death as part of the life cycle. They have a sister who is not with us, and to deny them the experience of knowing Brady and her story, is to deny Brady the honor she deserves as a member of our family. However, there is a tricky line in describing heaven in that you don’t want it to sound TOO enticing to a child.
The almost-four-year-old and I sat down to talk about his balloon. We talked about why he loved his balloon, and we talked about where it went. He told me that it went to space and then when it was through space it got to heaven and Brady found it. My heart was smiling. He understands the concept! He understands that Brady is in heaven! Hooray! Until… “and mommy I don’t want Brady to have my balloon, so I need a really, really tall ladder so I can get up to heaven and get my balloon back from her.” Oooooh. A) As it turns out, sibling rivalry is not relegated only to this realm. B) Here is the magical thinking of grief… and the cycle begins again. I cannot lie to you, still today, I wish there were a really, really tall ladder that could get me up to heaven, so I could just hold my baby girl for a moment. I promise I would be quick and come right back to earth (bargaining).
As ridiculous as it may sound, I understood my son’s pain in the moment. I understood the devastation behind his wailing. I knew the familiar ache of longing he was sensing, and I was so right there with him. I know it was only a balloon, but for him it was more than the balloon. The concept is an important one. The lesson is one we will spend the rest of our lives getting our arms around, there are some things that when they go, they go away forever, so we need to hold tight to what we can of them.