As painful as my own grief has been, watching my son grieve has been even harder in some ways. To see your child in so much emotional pain and distress and not be able to do anything to fix it is a horrible feeling.
Most of us are thrown into the role of parenting a grieving child with absolutely no preparation. The first time I picked up a book on helping grieving children, I felt angry. It gave me a lot of great tips that would've been so helpful to know before making decisions about viewings, funerals, internment, etc., but I wasn't reading when making those decision. I was just trying to breathe. We make the best decisions we can while in the worst time of our lives and we have to do it alone. The very person we want to talk it out with - the one who knows our kids the best and has helped with hard decisions before - is gone. We wonder how we will make it to the other side of grief alive and if we can get our kids there without causing more harm to their battered hearts.
In the months after my husband died, I began to learn that children grieve very differently than adults. Sometimes this causes their grief to be overlooked and minimized. Yet they are experiencing as much pain as grown ups who express it in more obvious and culturally-accepted ways.
A grieving parent has the overwhelming responsiblity of shepherding their children through grief and loss, but they don't have to do it alone. I am so grateful for the books, podcasts, organizations and experts who have helped me over the past two years. I know I will be relying on them for many years to come.
Below is a list of books, articles, podcasts, organizations and memory items that have helped me and my son. I hope they are helpful for you too.
Book for parents on helping grieving children:
The Grieving Child: A Parent's Guide by Helen Fitzgerald
Podcast for parents
Help! I'm Raising Fatherless Kids!
Grief books for kids:
No parent wants to introduce a child to the concept of death, but when you have no choice because a mother or father died, it is particularly horrible. Death is very hard for children to understand and hard for grieving parents to know how to talk about in a way that is age appropriate. I found that picture books were very helpful in opening up the conversation and helping me know how to talk to my son in a way that he might understand. Here are some favorites:
Emily Lost Someone She Loved by Kathleen Fucci Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss by Pat Schwiebert The Memory Book; A Grief Journal for Children and Families by Joanna Roland When My Daddy Died, I...Things I Miss About My Dad by K.J.Reider
The Memory Box: A Book About Grief by Joanna Roland
The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
When I'm With Jesus: For Any Child with a Loved One in Heaven by Kimberly Rae
God Gave Us Heaven by Lisa T. Bergren
Old and New Friends by Casey Martin
Having physical objects that my son can touch that remind him of his daddy has been very helpful. He has slept with some of his daddy's favorite t-shirts since the day he found out he had died. He also has one of his dad's blankets and pillows on his bed.
We made a memory box, carefully selecting and labeling all kinds of objects that were special to my son and reminded him of his daddy. We made one for me too. Our inspiration was this book: The Memory Box: A Book About Grief by Joanna Roland
I have also made some memory items for him. I had a blanket made from Greg's t-shirts (he loved thrifting for really bizarre t-shirts) and it has brought us a lot of comfort. I used Project Repat and they were fantastic.
I made a DYI blanket out of my husband's bandanas - another item that was iconically him. Having them to snuggle with on extra hard days has been helpful for both me and my son.
My son loves looking at pictures of his dad with him but they are all on my phone or other electronic devices. I made him picture albums through Snapfish that have every single picture of the two of them together. This way he can look at pictures whenever he likes.
A number of my friends have had Daddy Dolls made for their kids and they love them. This company is geared towards military families but their dolls have brought a lot of comfort to grieving children too.
To preserve some of the flowers from Greg's memorial service and to have a long-lasting keepsake, I ordered custom resin tea light candle holders made from the dried flowers. One is for my son to have in his room now (with a battery-operated tea light candle) and to keep as an adult. It's beautiful, special, and virtually indestructible. I used Golden Petals Boutique on Etsy but there are a lot of options out there!
Child Grief Organizations
The Wendt Center for Loss and Healing - based in Washington DC
Camp Erin - US Based National Bereavement Camp Network
Camp Comfort Zone - US Based Grief Camps
The Dougy Center - International organization with grief and advanced illness resources for families and children
Support Groups - list of groups world wide
Camp Kesem - US based camp for kids whose parent has cancer or who lost a parent to cancer