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In these Uncertain Times, Help Your Child Grieve

I thought my guy was a little too jubilant these last few days. It was novel for a minute to have his morning class meeting snuggled in bed via iPad and to have the possibility of endless days ahead of him to play. This morning that wore off. Sooner than I thought.

I heard crying from his bedroom after the class meeting. He was angry about the amount of school work. We talked and calmed, and decided to eat breakfast and then slowly tackle the work. As we sat at the kitchen counter eating oatmeal, he put his head and his hands and quietly cried, incredibly sad that he had to stop playing with the neighbor, with whom he has almost daily adventures romping through the nearby vineyards. It wasn’t the sort of cry I am used to from little ones--the kind that demands attention. This was the quiet cry I see more in adults--the shedding of grief as it comes to the tipping point. I have always encouraged it in myself, my family, and my clients, because the longer we live, the more loss we accumulate. Worst correlation ever.

I just didn’t expect he would be accumulating so much so soon. When I think back to my own childhood, I have so many memories of those endless days of which he imagined. Days of playing in lakes until I was exhausted, riding my bike everywhere, building, creating, all of it. Yet, if I am honest with myself, my childhood wasn’t only this bliss. I had my share of heartache, disappointment, loss, and trauma. And yet here I am, reveling in these happy moments as the way I remember my younger days. This feels really important to note as I support my own child now.

My son is experiencing a great mix of loss and joy in his life. I can’t fix that. The earth and the living creatures here are struggling, and the consistent thing in all of it does seem to be more natural disasters, health crises and unpredictable events. As I see him suffer, of course I want to make it go away, but then I remember back. Much of my suffering as a child was not fixed at the time, but it didn’t erase my ability to have joyful experiences and to remember them. It’s true, KIDS ARE RESILIENT.

One thing I lacked during some key moments of my childhood was a caring, present adult who would process the scariness and confusion of life with me. This is something I am pretty adamant about giving my own kid. It doesn’t mean I am a perfect parent, or that I don’t have my crabby, irritable days when I feel like a failure myself. It does mean that each time we come to the next loss, I am honest about my own feelings, and I don’t try to put certainty where there isn’t any. It means that I turn toward the pain when my little one is feeling it, and let it be there, without shame, without judgment.

I notice that the times when I can’t be present are often when I am overwhelmed with worry about things I can’t control in this moment. I fret that his experience now will scar him for later, or that we won’t recover from the current situation. When I get out of the worry about the future, it is much easier to be comforting in the current dilemma. In this way, I work to be a consistent, helpful adult in these moments of grief.

When the acute moment of grief passes, we go out and find some joy. The great balancing. We joke that fourth grade is the year of “un-school” because of how much time he’s missed. We pretend to be voices of our pets and laugh at their behaviors. We rewatch Bored Panda toy design fails. And we get out to the natural spaces that are still intact, still so beautiful, where things continue to make sense. These moments fortify both of us so when the next wave of grief comes, we will have had a break, and can meet it once again with the grace and attention it deserves.

From these moments a pattern has seemed to emerge. Grieve--Breathe--Laugh--Play--Grieve--Breathe--Laugh--Play. I try to pay attention to the rhythms of life when they appear. In these times of uncertainty and surprise, I am grateful for this unexpected guidance. Yielding to this rhythm provides a road map when I need it most. So I will continue to do my part--be present, fortify us for the next difficulty, and breathe into each stage as it comes. Knowing that impermanence is constant, this too shall pass.

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