Why is it so hard to show up for young people in grief? Our fears, and the truths we need to hear.
We were asked recently if we thought that giving a gift to a grieving child might end up causing them to remember and grieve their loss each time that they see their gift. We are asked many different iterations of this question on a regular basis. We know it to mean, "Will this gift make this child sad?", which seems to be the most common fear that we have when addressing children's grief. Our answer is simple: the thing that the child will associate most with your gift is the feeling of being remembered and cared for. The warmth and weight of a comfort blanket when they needed a hug; the scrapbook kit with everything they needed the moment a special memory hit - ready to capture it on the page, to keep and treasure forever. Losing a loved one is sad. Grieving and remembering them is important and necessary. Your gift will help a child to do these things because they will feel supported. That is the goal.
Lets take a deep-dive into a few more of the most common fears people have when thinking of how to respond to a young person's grief and loss.
Fear: That acknowledging a loss or giving a sympathy gift might make a child sad.
Truth: Sometimes adults avoid talking about grief and loss for fear that a child will become upset. The truth is that they are already hurting inside, and having their feelings acknowledged by someone can feel validating and create connection. Because kids move in and out of feelings differently than adults, when we see them laughing and playing, we think “Phew! Everything is fine! Don’t rock the boat and make them upset!” And when we see them hurting and sad, we think that we must have done something wrong. But it's normal for young people to move in and out of their grief. Emotional ups and downs are normal, and are interspersed with regular play and social time. When we are silent about difficult things, the only things that children learn are that they are alone with their feelings, and that some things are too scary or too sad or too hard to talk about. Kids need to hear that their feelings are real and normal; that other people feel the same way; that feelings come and go; and that they have our support while riding those waves.
Fear: That giving a sympathy gift to a child in another family might be viewed as overstepping.
Truth: Grief makes everything in life feel more difficult, and the sheer weight of everyday life can be overwhelming for someone in grief. Family members want to be there for their children who have experienced grief (of course!), but following a death, tracking down resources and information can be overwhelming and might not be top of mind. Sending a card to a child, (or a therapeutic art kit, a pocket stone, or journal), is a kind and gentle way to show up for any child in your life or in your community. We have heard feedback from parents of children who have received a gift, as well as from children themselves, and the response has always been positive and full of gratitude.
Fear: That we might say or do the “wrong” thing
Truth: Saying something is better than saying nothing. When thinking about what to say or do when faced with a child’s grief, it is helpful to consider your intention. Our goal is not to “solve all feelings of grief and take away all hurt and sadness forever!”, though we may wish that we could. When we feel that this is our responsibility, we are more likely to feel overwhelmed with what to do. Our intention is more likely something like this: wanting a child to feel seen; letting them know that we care about how they are doing; wanting to let them know that we are someone they can talk to if they need to; letting them know they are not alone. When we connect to our most basic intention, it can feel much easier to manage. This birds-eye view can also help us see that almost anything we say or do will be absolutely fine, because it meets one of these basic needs.
Fear: That thinking about children’s grief is too sad or too much for us.
Truth: A child losing a parent or a sibling or another family member, is likely to be one of the most difficult things that we can imagine. Maybe it’s even something that we have gone through before, and hearing about someone else’s experience brings up old feelings that we would rather not feel. Humans experience great loss and horrible sadness, and we can only manage so many hard things at one time. When our nervous systems are overwhelmed, we might feel like shutting down to someone else’s needs. That is completely normal - it is our brain’s way of protecting ourselves. Part of the reason that we developed With Love Grief Gifts is so that people can show up for their loved ones in the way that they want to, even when they can’t physically or emotionally manage it. If thinking about grief is just too hard, you can give us a child’s age, address and your budget, and from $3 and upwards we can put together a gift that is just right for them. We will even handwrite a note from you on the card, package it beautifully by hand, and send it directly to them. We understand grief, and we are here for you.