by Chris Shaw, MAMFT
Bringing this month's series on “Making Sense of Your Child's Grief” to a close is a short story relating to grief that was shared with me once. A man had a parakeet whom he loved dearly. One day while vacuuming his house, he accidentally sucked his precious pet parakeet up into the bag full of dust. The man who owned the parakeet responded frantically. The parakeet was relieved, finally being freed from the vacuum; but to his dismay, the owner proceeded to rinse the parakeet off under running water and began drowning him. He realized shortly thereafter that he was actually doing harm! The man hastily got his blow dryer out and began to dry the parakeet off. The parakeet lost many of his feathers in the process. He did survive, but he was never the same. Clearly the man loved his parakeet and was trying to do what was best for him, but he actually kept worsening his parakeet's condition. Grief leaves us forever changed and often we don't know how to help others in grief. By trying to help them, sometimes we actually make things worse for them. Sometimes we need to meet our own needs before we can help our children in need. This man in panic was a source of further distress for his pet. He needed to first become calm in order to best help his bird.
Parents have griefs of their own, which make it more difficult for them to fully enter into their child's state of mind. In order to be the best help to your children, take the time to process your own emotions and grieve. Psychologist Erich Fromm was quoted as saying: “To spare oneself from grief at all cost can be achieved only at the price of total detachment, which excludes the ability to experience happiness.” We want to avoid grief, but emotional numbness can ensue, which closes us off from feeling even the positive emotions that help us to connect with one another. This distances us from those that we love the most. The man with the parakeet was actually not putting the best interests of his bird in front, but what he thought the bird needed. Take care of yourself so that you can provide the best care for your child. Taking care of your own grief needs shows to your children that we are created with emotions, all of which are good. “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” Ecclesiastes 7:3-4.
These references were useful in putting together this month's blog:
Coehn, Judith, A. et al., 2006, Treating Trauma and Traumatic Grief in Children and Adolescents, New York, Guilford Press.
Roberts, Albert, R., 2000. Crisis Intervention Handbook: Assessment, Treatment, and Research, 2nd Ed. New York: Oxford University Press.
Fiorini, J and Mullen, J., Understanding Grief and Loss in Children, Found at The American Counseling Association website: www.counseling.org/Resources/Library/VISTAS/ accessed on 30 August, 2011.
National Institute of Mental Health, Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Disasters: What Rescue Workers Can Do, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/helping-children-and-adolescents-cope-with-violence-and-disasters-rescue-workers/complete-index.shtml accessed on 30 August, 2011.