If you do a quick search on quotes about a child who is in grief and dealing with loss you find information on parents losing their child, typically to death. I found this interesting. It doesn’t appear that many people focus on child loss and grief and yet a child grieves losses in just as deep a manner as any adult. With children, however, it is hard to see their grief.
Children don’t name the loss or their state of grief.
Children may not cry or act sad.
Children may act out and refuse to do chores or cooperate in other things a parent requests.
Children may show anger and typically withdraw in one fashion or another. They frequently become depressed, despondent, and at times, desperate.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is famous for her stages of grief. To quote her, “The five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief.”
When looking at the COVID-19 and Pandemic it assists us to define “the one we lost.”
Our children lost school in the way they knew it. They lost their social network of friends and classmates. They lost their teachers, school nurse, and school counselors. They lost getting up and brushing their teeth to head out to catch the bus or walk a short or long distance in the early morning hours to be part of a gathering, a tribe, a place known as school. This giant collective, filled with many feelings that both draw and repel children, was taken from them and became “the one we lost.”
“The one we lost” was parents. Parents were worried, most were overwhelmed, and many lost their jobs. Money, finances, rent, and mortgages became new words in a dictionary emergency search for children who were five or fifteen. Parents were hoarding, mom was baking, and tempers may have been hard to control. Some parents who kept their jobs were overwhelmed because the children were home. Single moms and dads struggled to get kids up and have them go to their online school or do the packets of 250 pages the school sent home in March when the pandemic began. Children told me, “But I don’t understand.” Of course they don’t, how can they?
Some kids lost a parent to a separation or divorce. “The one we lost” became mom who moved out or dad who moved in with his girlfriend or mom and dad sent the children to live with uncle Carl and aunt Emmy because their state had fewer COVID-19 cases. Some dads and moms sent their spouse and children away because they worked in the hospital or emergency room and they were terrified coming home at night. What if they didn’t clean off well enough in the garage? What if they made a now forgotten mistake while in the ICU? “The one we lost” for children was the disruption the family would feel in one way or another.
Some parents had gotten clean from drugs or alcohol. Others were finally getting better on their anti-depressants or anxiety meds and doing psychotherapy. With the pandemic parents often slipped back. Drinking increased, drug usage increased, and wherever you were before it was likely you would be there again where mental health challenges were concerned. This, for children, would be “the one we lost.”
Children go through denial: They don’t know how real this whole thing is. Some kids took risks. Some became depressed and confused.
Children engage in bargaining: If this could just go away and things would go back the way they were I would promise to do my homework every night. If mommy would just come back I promise to be good.
Children experience depression. Signs of depression include withdrawal, apathy, anger, irritability, restlessness, and difficulty engaging in usual activities that would have conjured some joy or happiness.
Children can reach a place of acceptance. Acceptance is flexibility and rolling with the change. Let’s see where it brings us. After all, “When the table moves, move with the table.”
Grief and loss in childhood is real. Children will show signs of grief, but they are not always signs adult recognize. Pay attention. As Sanjay Gupta, MD stated about the COVID-19, “Assume everyone has it, including yourself.” The same applies to grief. Assume everyone has grief right now, including yourself.
Wishing you all the best.
Next week: Lost and Found in The Time of Pandemic: Children and Tools for Moving Forward.