Coping with the Death of a Loved One
Dear Selfless Esteem,
My husband died a couple months ago and I’m devastated. I told our kids that he is in Heaven. Still, we are all hurting. My 12yo is irritable, my 9 yo is having stomach aches, and my 4yo is clingy and has nightmares. What else can I do?
Overwhelmed with Grief
Dear Overwhelmed with Grief,
My sincere condolences to you–I cannot even begin to imagine what you’re going through. And my heart goes out to your children too.
You stated that you told your children that their father is in Heaven. Yes, the good news is that God loves us so much that He gave us His only Son so that we could have eternal life (John 3:16). But in the meantime, we miss our loved ones. And so you asked, “What else can I do?”
First of all, be sure to take care of yourself. Not only are you grieving the loss of your husband, but also you are adjusting to becoming a single parent. Below are some suggestions.
- Request/accept help from friends and family to watch the kids and/or bring food.
- Find a competent therapist. See the posts, “What is Wise Counsel and Good Therapy?” and “Why You Need a Therapist ASAP.”
- Join a support group, such as one offered by GriefShare.
- See 6 Effective Ways to Manage Stress for tips on self-care.
- See the post, “4 Crucial Sources of Comfort During the Grieving Process.”
- Spend quiet time with “the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). For more information on drawing near to God, see “Why Selfless Esteem Is Better Than Self-Esteem,” “The Real Truth About God,” and “How To Pray in 5 Simple Steps.”
Be vigilant of complicated grief and seek professional help. Complicated grief includes but is not limited to the following:
- Absent or delayed grief
- Feeling stuck in one emotion for a long period of time, i.e. fear, anger, or helplessness
- Avoiding grief through substance use
- Blaming oneself (See Defeat Self-Criticism for general tips on how to decrease self-blame.)
- Chronic grief and depression
Sometimes people experiencing bereavement have suicidal thoughts. If you or any of your children are having suicidal thoughts, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. There’s also a chat feature at Lifeline Chat : Lifeline (suicidepreventionlifeline.org) Of course in imminent danger, call 911. For other countries, please see this list of suicide crisis lines.
4 Tasks to Accomplish During the Grieving Process
According to J.W. Worden, author of Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner, there are 4 tasks to accomplish during the grieving process. These tasks are not necessarily completed in sequential order.
- Accept the loss.
- Process the pain.
- Adjust to life without the deceased.
- Find a place for the deceased in the survivor’s emotional life.
The accomplishment of these tasks by children depends on their support system, their coping skills, and how well the surviving parent adapts.
The Grieving Process in Children and Teens
Children grieve in different ways depending on their culture, environment, and especially their age. For this reason, your interventions will be tailored to each child.
Your youngest child needs frequent reassurance that you are there for him. Be sure to show him affection often.
Your middle child seems to be somatizing his distress. Nonetheless, he would benefit from a physical exam to make sure there are no health problems.
Your oldest child might be hiding his feelings and defaulting to anger because it feels strengthening; whereas, sadness feels weak. See Parenting an Angry Teenage Son to manage any anger outbursts.
For all your children, consider family therapy and/or individual therapy to help your children find ways to cope. They might also benefit from a support group or grief camp. Whenever possible, try to keep changes in their lives to a minimum. And if their school performance declines, collaborate with school personnel on how to support each child.
How Long Does Mourning Last?
There is no time limit on grief; thus, it’s important to commemorate your family member on an ongoing basis. For example, you could make a collage, slide show, photo album, or artwork with your children. You could even name a star after him and then look for the star with them.
Special occasions and the anniversary of the death can be especially difficult. Discuss with your children which traditions they would like to keep and what new ones they would like to create.
The Pathway to Comfort and Peace
In addition to the aforementioned recommendations, here are some suggestions to promote healing.
- Participate in fun activities together
- Go for a walk
- Enjoy hobbies
- Play sports
- Write a letter to the person, who died
- Peruse the internet, bookstore, or library for books for youth about grief and loss, such as the following:
- “Why Do I Feel So Sad?: A Grief Book for Children” by Tracy Lambert, LPC
- “How I Feel: Grief Journal for Kids: Guided Prompts to Explore Your Feelings and Find Peace” by Mia Roldan, LCSW, LCDC
- “I Miss You: A First Look at Death” by Pat Thomas
- “Fire in My Heart, Ice in My Veins: A Journal for Teenagers Experiencing Loss” by Enid Samuel Traisman
- “Understanding Mourning: A Guide for Those Who Grieve” by Glen W. Davidson
- “Straight Talk about Death for Teenagers: How to Cope with Losing Someone You Love” by Earl A. Grollman
- “The Memory Box: A Book about Grief” by Joanna Rowland
- “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White
- “Angel Catcher: a Journal of Loss and Remembrance” by Kathy Elden and Amy Elden Turteltaub
Last but not least, when you are overwhelmed with grief, take comfort in knowing that God is with you (Matthew 28:20) and that He shares your pain. For example, Jesus wept with the mourners when Lazarus died–even though He already knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. (See John 11:33-36.)
Furthermore, God is your helper (Psalm 54:4). If you’re too emotionally exhausted to pray, that’s ok because He knows what you need before you even ask (Matthew 6:8). Instead, you can simply rest your head on His shoulder (John 13:23) while He holds your hand and strengthens you (Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 41:13). 🐦
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version®. Copyright © 1984 by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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