Children’s Grief Awareness Day is observed every year on the third Thursday in November. It is a day that brings attention to the effect that grief can have on a child and to help make sure every child receives the support they need.
When I was 10, my maternal grandfather (Papa as we called him), died suddenly and unexpectedly the week before school started. I was confused, devastated, and unsure of what was happening.
Over the next few hours and days, family members and friends took turns making sure my brother and I were fed, bathed and went to bed on time. While everyone was trying to keep things “normal”, nothing was the same as it used to be. I remember thinking “Why is nobody talking to us about Papa?!”. We were completely in the dark about how he died and none of our adults were telling us what was going on. At 10 years old, I was just starting to understand the permanency of death. I understood Papa died, but I did not understand what happened after the funeral. I remember feeling an uncomfortableness in the air at Grandma and Papa’s house. The familiar now seemed very unfamiliar. I had so many questions. When would we have to start school? Would Grandma live alone in their house? What would happen to all of Papa’s stuff? How long would we feel sad? Was it okay if we felt happy sometimes? Why did my stomach hurt a lot?
When a grieving child asks me those kinds of questions, I often reflect back to my childhood. I didn’t know that what I was experiencing was grief. Any major life change can cause grief including the death of a loved one or family pet, a diagnosis of terminal or chronic illness, incarceration,divorce, or an injury.. There are no magic solutions that make grief go away. As with adults, children’s grief journeys take time. Children process grief in their own way and on their own time table. Grief is normal, and it is a whole body experience.
Here are some common grief experiences for children based on developmental stage.
Very Young Child (Ages 2-4)