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11/8/15blog post

helping a child deal with loss

Loss is an inevitable part of life. Kids can experience intense feelings about the death of a parent or relative, or even a family pet. When a child’s relationship ends abruptly, the impact can be particularly devastating.

With the help of his mom, twelve-year-old Devon did all the right things after his grandfather passed away. He attended the funeral and even said a few words at the service. Devon’s mom tried to talk to him, but he said little to nothing. When his grades began to deteriorate and he became highly reclusive, she brought him to meet with me.

As with adults, there is no timetable for how quickly kids recover from grief. The grieving process never really ends. We just figure out some way to continue living.

Devon was surprisingly talkative when we first met. He recounted numerous stories about his grandfather. Growing up without a dad, Devon’s grandfather was the only constant male role model in his life. Devon was open about why he never spoke with his mom about his feelings. Shortly after the funeral, he told his mom that he was really going to miss the yearly fishing trip he took with Grandpa; she began crying and left the room.

Devon interpreted her response as a signal that he shouldn’t discuss such things openly. I hear this often from kids. Devon didn’t want to hurt his mom’s feelings by bringing up something that was so upsetting to her. So, he retreated to keeping his feelings to himself.

Devon had always been a good student with lots of friends, but now, he was failing almost all subjects and didn’t really talk to anyone. Do we accept this as a normal stage of grief, or do we try to help David transition to a different level?

After meeting with Devon on a few occasions and hearing many cool stories about his grandpa, it became apparent what needed to be done. I asked Devon one simple question. If your grandpa was in the room with us right now, what advice would he give you? Without hesitation, he laughed and responded that his grandpa would give him a “kick in the butt” and tell him to improve his grades and to start playing sports again.

Devon realized that the best way to honor his Grandpa’s life was to live in a way that would make him proud. The memory of his grandpa became a trigger to take action, not a retreat into sadness and withdrawal. Devon succeeded; we only met a few more times. He never fully got over his Grandpa’s death. Instead, he figured out how to use an unfortunate event as motivation to live a meaningful life.