By now, if you read my blog, you know what Willow Center is and the work it does for the children in our community who have had a significant loss. November is Children’s Grief Awareness Month and children’s grief is something that, believe it or not, affects every one of us. Take a minute or less to think of someone you know who has died. Do they have children in their lives? Grandchildren, children, siblings, nieces, nephews…these kids are part of our community and will grieve their loss. And even when we think they are ‘over it’ and they are happy and playing and laughing…they’ll still be grieving. This month is dedicated to being a support to children who are grieving and being mindful of their grief journey, how you can help, and being a hope.
On my mom’s side of the family, I have 4 cousins. Two have lived in Seattle since they were born (one now lives in Oregon). My two who live here I saw all the time growing up. They are quite a bit younger than me so I liked to play mom (even though they totally have one!) to them when I was in junior high and high school. I feel a responsibility to be a good role model to them and to be someone they know they can come to if they need anything at all. Abbey was born when I was 12 and I was in heaven. I was with her every chance I could get and that was a lot. She lived with her mom but spent lots and lots of time with her dad. I was not close with her dad by any stretch of the imagination. But no matter what, there was one thing I knew about him for sure: he loved Abbey more than anything in the universe. I would pass them almost the same time of day every day in high school — I’d wave every time, but she was so oblivious because she was too busy smiling and laughing, her wispy hair blowing like crazy behind the open-top, old Jeep she’d cruise around in with her dad. I think she loved him probably almost as much as he loved her. Her time with her dad was happy. They cooked together, they went to the pet shop together, Polar Bear, riding in the Jeep.
Abbey has had a hard journey up to this point. When she was in 4th grade, her mom (my aunt) was diagnosed with breast cancer. My grandma died of lung cancer, so knowing her mom had the same thing her grandma died of (although a different type) you would think would scare her but she wasn’t too scared. Her mom was (and is) a fighter and took it one step at a time and told her not to be afraid and that she would be okay…which she was. But watching her mom in pain after surgeries and treatments wasn’t easy. “She would sit in her chair and just lay still because her skin burned from the radiation. I wished there was anything I could do to make it better.” That’s a lot for a 4th grader.
Then, just before Christmas when Abbey was 12, her dad had a stroke. As a 12 year old, she had never thought she might lose her dad. Her dad dying wasn’t even on her radar and when he died on January 3rd, she was still oblivious to the situation until her mom told her he had passed. Naturally, she was devastated. She cried. She stayed home from school for about a week. I remember feeling helpless. I wanted to help, but I had no idea how. Do I take her to the places she used to go with her dad or would that make her more sad? Do I ask about how she’s feeling or do I try and distract her from feeling sad? Death is confusing and it’s weird and it’s sad and it’s complicated — being a child and losing a parent is even more so.
Abbey is a 17 year old without a dad. She might get married some day and her dad won’t be there to walk her down the aisle. Her kids will miss out on that grandparent. She cooks and thinks of her dad. Old Jeeps….her dad. Certain errands, smells, sounds…her dad. His loss isn’t just something that will go away, that she won’t feel anymore. It’s still very real, very hard and very much a part of her.
“I have a book that my dad gave me when I was younger. It’s called “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss. There’s a note he wrote on the back cover that says he’ll always be with me and he can’t wait to see where I go in life. “Have a sweet happy journey. Dad” I also have his reading glasses next to my bed.“
Consider wearing blue to show support today for children who are grieving.
Write a note to a child who has lost someone — recently or years ago.
Send cookies to their house, flowers, or dinner.
Do something — it matters.