How To Help A Child/Adolescent Cope With The Loss Of A Loved One

Losing someone in our life that we love is extremely painful. After a significant loss, one may experience all kinds of difficult and surprising emotions, such as shock, intense sadness, guilt and at times even anger.  Sometimes it may feel like the sadness will never go away. While these feelings can be frightening and overwhelming, they are normal reactions to loss. Accepting them as part of the grieving process and allowing oneself to feel what you feel is necessary for healing.

There is no correct or wrong way to grieve — but there are healthy ways to cope with the pain the child may be experiencing. Grief that is expressed and experienced has a potential for healing that eventually can strengthen and enrich life. Grief is a natural response to loss. It is the emotional suffering one feels when someone he loves is taken away. The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief will be.

Everyone grieves differently: Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. How a person grieves depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your level of emunah, and the nature of the loss. The grieving process takes time and the healing happens gradually. It cannot and should not be forced or hurried – and nor is there a “normal” timeframe for the grieving. Some people can feel better in months, while for others it may take years. It is therefore important to be patient with the child and allow the process to naturally unfold. Because grief is like a roller coaster, not a series of stages.

When we are on a roller coaster, there are ups and downs, highs and lows. The ride may tend to be rougher in the beginning and the lows may be deeper and longer. It will take time to work through a loss. Even years after a loss, especially at special events such as a family wedding or the birth of a child, we may still experience a strong sense of grief.  Here are 2 detailed tips that can help you and your child cope with loss.

Tip 1: A Strong Support System
The single most important factor in healing from loss is having the support of other people. Even if the child is not comfortable speaking about his feelings, it is important to try and get the child to express them when you feel that his grief is sinking in. Sharing the loss makes the burden of grief easier to carry. Wherever the support comes from, the child has to learn to accept it and not grieve alone. Connecting to others does help the healing process.

1)  Family & Friends: Convey to your child that he can lean on the people who care about him, even if the child is taking pride in being strong and self-sufficient. This will teach him to draw loved ones close rather than avoiding them. Oftentimes, people want to help but they do not always know how. Therefore, ask the child to express to you clearly, what it is he needs – whether a shoulder to cry on or anything else.

2) Draw Comfort From Torah & Emunah: It is important that the child learn to embrace the comfort that davening brings into his heart. Sometimes speaking with a spiritual mentor or getting involved in an act of chesed can offer him tremendous solace.

Tip 2: Take Care Of Yourself
When you or your child are grieving, it is very important to take care of yourselves. The stress of a loss can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Look after your physical and emotional needs and this may help you get through this difficult time.

1) Face Your Feelings: Some people try to suppress the sadness they feel, but they cannot avoid it forever. In order to heal, one has to acknowledge the pain. Trying to avoid feelings of sadness and loss only prolongs the grieving process. Unresolved grief can lead to undesired results.

2) Look After Your Physical Health: The mind and body are connected. When you feel good physically, you will tend to feel better emotionally. Try to make sure the child is getting enough sleep; eating right and exercising.

3) Don’t Let Others Tell You How To Feel & Don’t Tell Yourself How To Feel: Your grief and the grief of your child is your own and no one else can tell you when it is time to “move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It is perfectly normal to cry or not to cry. It is even okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go of the sadness when you are ready.

4) Plan Ahead: Anniversaries, chagim, and milestones can reawaken memories and feelings. Be prepared for an emotional wallop, and know that it is completely normal. Learn to express the upcoming event with those close to you. Talk to them ahead of time about what you think you’ll be feeling. This may make the event less painful.