If you have followed my writing from the beginning you know that I don't write about my children's grief. Why? Because it's their grief and not mine. Their pain and trauma is not mine to put out there on social media in writing or pictures or video......even if it would save lives. Why? I am a Mother who has to protect her children first. My children's emotional and mental well-being has to come first in my life. What I have put out there I have written in poetry/prose form in a deep and truthful but yet generalized way so it can be about any child's grief. My little ballerina post that's gone wildly viral around the globe? I made that photo of my daughter black-and-white so it could reflect childhood innocence and joy in a general and timeless way. The poetry in that post is my view of my children's experience and I wrote it in poetry form so that it could be about any child who has lost a parent to suicide. So, friends, this is a blog post that I wrote three years ago and I update it every year to reflect my children's healing and growth. It's the only thing I will write about their grief so that they can feel safe and secure in the knowing that they own their emotions and memories and story and they are welcome to share with the world when they are grown up or they can keep it to themselves. We hope this blog post helps you and your grieving kids. We love you!! -Nik, Hazel, and Sawyer
My children's grief is their own. They own their emotions. They will carry the wound of losing their Dad in their hearts for the rest of their lives but friends, they are still vivacious, loving, compassionate, smart, curious, and wildly creative kids!!! They are amazing. I'm amazed at their capacity to heal and move forward with LOVE.
I received a text message late one evening from a woman asking about children's grief. Her daughters Dad died by suicide a few months ago and the child is experiencing outbursts, tantrums.....big emotions. No, I am not a child therapist or child psychologist or any of that. Please, reach out to all resources available when you are looking for help and guidance for your grieving child. But, what am I? I am the Mother to two grieving children. I have experienced first hand what no text book can show you. I have held small children while they wailed for their Dad in the middle of the night. I have sat on my living room floor and cried while my child screamed and threw things because they were so full of anger because their Dad died. I have asked my children's permission to talk about my view of their grief.
Instead of going into a long story about my children's grief over the past four years I will share tidbits of what I have witnessed them experience.
My children have experienced anger. They have thrown things, screamed, raged, and been all around just mad. Of course they are mad. Their Dad is gone and they don't fully understand why. I don't fully understand why. So, I let them. Within our house it's ok to let out your emotions as long as you are not hurting others with objects or words. Yell how you feel about your Dad being dead if it's going to make you feel better. Get it out of your little body. It's OK. To be honest it was super extreme in the beginning. Very extreme and it was very isolating and worsened my own grief because no one experienced it or witnessed these little babies grieving.......but me. No one saw the pain, destruction, and terribleness that was happening in our once in-tact and loving home. These things happened behind closed curtains. If you are a grieving solo parent going through this.....I understand. It's awful. If you make it through and you will, I want to give you a big hug and a gold trophy of parenthood. This is real, raw, and authentic parenting. Parenting an angry grieving child? Possibly one of the hardest things to do in all of parenthood. Potty training? A breeze. Kids begging for toys in the store? Oh well. They won't eat their broccoli at dinner? They'll eat it if you give them some Ranch sauce. Parenting a child who is screaming out for their dead parent at 3:00am? A child saying to you, "I don't want you! Go away! I want my Dad! Give me back my Dad!" That is one of the most heartbreaking and hard things you might ever experience in your life. It will almost break you. Just remember. Anger has a purpose too. It needs to be felt, heard, and released.
Of course my children experienced waves of grief... crying for days and then not crying for weeks. This was their reality for the first 6 months and it eased slowly after that. Now, 4 years later...they no longer have days like this. Their wound is still in their hearts but they have healed tremendously.
When her Dad first died, my daughter drew hundreds of pictures of him, of our family of four. Hundreds. Slowly, ever so slowly he moved around in the picture. At first, she drew the four of us right next to each other. Over and over she drew that. And then eventually, he would be to the side, or down in the ground, or up in the sky. And then? Over two years later? She would draw our family of three. It was heartbreaking but it also shows her deep healing.
My little boy experienced terrible anxiety after his Dad died. It is better now as he is getting older. At first, he couldn't be anywhere that was big, loud, and overstimulating. This made going to the grocery store almost impossible. He would scream and cry to go home. He didn't like going anywhere like the doctors office, dentists office, library. He was overwhelmed. He has always been happiest at home or out in nature. So, for the first year after loss we lived our life around this so that we all felt calm and safe. He was only two-years-old. We went in nature every day. We stayed home more. We did small, quick trips to the grocery store and I would let him wear earphones and watch a movie on his little kid DVD player. It's not like this at all anymore now that he's about to turn six. He was a scared little turtle hiding in his shell after his Dad died. He's come out of his shell now and he's loving, hilarious, intelligent, sweet, loving, and so brave. He's the first to help a baby, hold the door for an elderly person, and tell the checkout person, "Hi! I like dinosaurs. Do you like dinosaurs?" How did we heal his anxiety and fears? With time. With tons and tons of hugs and love. With patience.
My children have been scared. Very scared. Scared of the dark, scared of Mommy dying, scared of ghosts, scared of bumps in the night. They aren't scared of the dark anymore and when they were? We slept with night lights on. We burn sage in our home and smudge it around every room and nook and cranny to tell bad energy it's not welcome in our home. We talk to our angels and ask them every night at bedtime to protect our home and all of the living creatures inside of it.
My children were so, so terrified of me dying, me leaving in general, when their Dad first died. We still talk about this probably weekly. These conversations with children aren't a one-time thing. The conversations change and grow and get more in-depth as they get older. Their questions get more detailed. They want more information to make them feel safe.
They didn't have any warning when their Dad died. They had no roadmap to what would happen to them if he died or we both died. They have that roadmap now in their little back pockets of their minds and it makes them feel safe. When he first died, they didn't want to be apart from me. I would even walk into the next room and one of them, especially my little guy, would scream, "Mama! Mama!" Their little bodies and hearts were in shock. Their loving Dad never came home. He just never came home and they couldn't believe it. They were sad, anxious, stressed, and so scared. It took months, maybe over a year, for me to talk to them about it enough that they feel safe. They had huge separation anxiety for a long, long time. I tell tell you now....4 years later...things are not at all like they were in those first year. My children have been restored and healed and are so vibrant and joyful.
They have seen me cry like a little child on the bathroom floor, yell out in anger to their Dad to just come home, and they have seen me strong as an ox fighting through life to keep our family floating above the waves of grief. They know I'm not going anywhere. They still get scared of lots of things. They are little kids. But they aren't afraid of life anymore. At least not like in those first days, weeks, and months after they seen their Dad lowered into the ground.
My little boy has no memories of his Dad. He makes up his own memories. I tell him as many stories as he wants to hear about him. He has a huge picture book that I made both of our children with probably 500 pictures of him and his sister with their Dad. Sometimes, he loves to look at it and is so proud of "My Dad caught that fish. My Dad put me on his shoulders." And sometimes? Sometimes I find it hidden under his bed. Or put out in the garage. When I ask him why he cries and says, "There's so many pictures of Hazel and Dad in there. There's not as many pictures of me and Dad cuz I'm littler. I'm so mad at him. He didn't see me ride my bike. He isn't going to see me be a mailman." I know what he's doing. He's mad and he's sad and he's trying to forget to protect his heart. When I find the book hidden now? I just lovingly put it back on the shelf. It's heartbreaking to think that this little boy has not one single memory of his Dad and now four years later his sister only has a couple that she repeats but even they are fading. I hold all the memories and sometimes I get scared that I will forget them too.
My little girl only has a couple memories left of her Dad. She had so many at first but they have faded with time. She has wailed in the middle of the night. She has been fast asleep and woken up in her bed screaming, "I don't remember Dad. I don't remember what he looks like or sounds like. I am forgetting my Dad!" This is heart wrenching stuff. To experience it in person........I don't wish this on any parent. There's nothing that I can do but run to her and hold her. No magic potion that I can sprinkle over her little blonde head to make her feel better. I can only hold her while she cries and tell her the stories of her Dad that she loves. I can only tell her that she is going to always miss her Dad but she is also going to grow up and be ok. I can only tell her that I'm mad too that he isn't here and that I miss him and wish he was here to hold her. I tell her that he's in her heart but of course it isn't enough. It's never going to be enough. All the stories, the pictures, and the nice sayings of him watching over her, none of that is ever enough because she wanted her Dad not all of that. I know she keeps things to herself. I know she's very sensitive because of this tragedy. But I also know that because of all of this hurt,..her heart is bigger, she is more loving, she is more aware that life is very precious. She will ache for him for the rest of her life. She will always wonder why he left. She will grow up without him and he won't be there to see her follow her dreams, fall-in-love, have babies, or go on great adventures and climb mountains. It hurts my heart to think about. I tell her she is so brave and so strong and so loving. I tell her that she is going to have a beautiful and adventurous life when she grows up and I tell her to hold tight to her brother because he is the one that will be by-her-side the longest in this lifetime.
Right away when he died, I knew in my gut that I didn't want our children to think this was their fault. I didn't want them to think that now they always had to be "good" so that Mom wouldn't leave too. I didn't want them to think that it was their job to take care of me or to make me happy all the time. Communication is just so important. They know how their Dad died. We talk about mental illness and about the different reasons we think this might have happened. We talk about emotions. We talk about spirituality. We talk about God. We talk about unconditional love. What is that? "I love you unconditionally. You don't have to be a certain way so that I will love you. You don't have to box up your feelings and be a "perfect" kid so that Mom will love you and not leave. Mom loves you when you're hollering, when you're throwing legos at her, when you're dragging mud through the house, when you draw on the dog, when you wake her in the middle of the night, and when you break her favorite coffee mug. Mom loves you no matter what. Mom is not going anywhere. There is nothing you could do to make Mom leave." Why do we talk about this? Because my kids feel abandoned. It's a deep-down hurt that no one can see and no one wants to talk about but it's there. And I don't want them to feel scared. I tell them that their Dad loved them so very much and he didn't want to leave them but its like he was standing on top of a ten story building and a huge raging fire was coming at him. He jumped so that he didn't get burned. It felt less scary in that moment to jump instead of getting burned. Kids understand being afraid. They understand it very well and they have deep empathy.
My sweet babies were only 23 months and 4 1/2 years old when their Dad died. They are now just about 6 years old and 8 1/2 years old. They have experienced all the emotions of grief that an adult experiences. They now understand that Dad died, his bones are in the ground, and his beautiful soul is off with God in Heaven. I tell them that he's their hearts, the color otheir hair, and the sound of their giggles. My daughter loves magic but her Dad's death? It made her lose some of that magic. She has seen death. She has snuck pictures into her Dad's casket. So, if you try to tell her that baby's come from the stork? Or that there's more than one Santa? She'll just smile because she knows the truth. She just feels the truth now about so many things in life. She's very intuitive. My little guy around the age of 2 would say that his Dad is a pirate. He's living on the moon. He lives in another town in a different house. He's dead but it's ok because the mailman will bring his Mommy a new guy to hang out with and maybe we can all watch a movie together. He was sorting out what happened in a very child-like way. With magic. And that's ok. His feelings and thoughts on it change as he grows. I told him when he was 2/3 years old, "Dad is in the ground. But his love, his soul, everything that made him, him? That's out in the air. It's all around you. He's apart of you in the size of your heart, your silly jokes, your kindness towards babies, your ability to remember every fact about dinosaurs and tools, and your beautiful hands. You have the shape of his hands. He is now about to turn six-years-old and he understands now that Dad isn't coming home, he isn't a pirate on an adventure.
My children are joyful, loving, smart, and so brave. They show me every single day how to keep on living, keep on loving. They root me on when I'm writing. They hug me every time I start to cry and they remind me day after day that the greatest thing I can do to honor my first husband is to live. I can keep on living, keep on breathing, keep on having adventures, keep on learning.......just live. I can be brave and vulnerable and try every day to not be the greatest parent in the entire world or the most perfect parent but the best parent for my beautiful and special children. They aren't like other kids who haven't experienced this level of grief, tragedy, and trauma. They are very special and have very tender hearts. They also have the greatest smiles and giggles in the entire town.
I know that their grief will change as they grow. I know that deep inside they have things about their grief that they might not tell me until they are all grown up. I know that they feel left behind. I know they feel not like other kids. But I don't want them to feel shame or unworthiness or unloved. I will try my best to guide them through this. I can't fix their grief. I can't take away their pain. I can hug them. I can love them triple when they're mad. I can tell them it's OK to be scared. I can tell them when I'm sad, when I'm angry, when I'm scared, when I'm not feeling brave, when I'm having rough days so that they know that it's ok to be vulnerable and honest about your emotions. We don't hide emotions in our house. If you're mad? Say it and let's talk about it. If you're sad? You don't have to be sad alone but if you wish to lay in your bed alone and cry? Then I will sit out on the couch and be there if you holler for me. Life is up and down and back and forth and dark and light. They have seen me wail and they have seen me laugh. They think I'm the best Mom but they also know that I am just human. Somedays I have it all together and somedays in that first year they would eat cold cereal for dinner and I would be crying on the couch all night. At first, I was so sad that they were now going to see me on this level that other children don't see their Mom's. They have seen me screaming at a grave, "Just come home! We can't do this without you! Why would you leave us?", they have seen me crying like a child.......crying so hard for hours that I could barely catch my breathe, they have seen me tackle their Dad's household chores all while I am mumbling mad to him that he should be here. They have seen me dirty, messy, devastated, angry, sad, and so much more. Now? Over four years later I have come to realize that while I don't like this tragedy one single bit, I am glad that my children have seen the real me, the human me. I'm not just a Mom standing in the kitchen endlessly cooking to them. I am a real person with real feelings. They have deep empathy for me because of all of this and really this is how all kids should see their parents, as human beings filled with emotions. They learn how to handle and live with emotions, from us. They also know this about their Dad. I tell them that he was only human. He was filled with emotions, he was terrified, and he made a very wrong choice but he was a very good person. I tell them that how he died, and what he did does not define who he was. We have to try to remember all of the life he had before that fateful day. Yes, the hurt runs deep in our veins and it very much feels like he abandoned us, but the love is still there and it always will be.
The bond they have with each other is beyond this world. They will probably help each other more than I will ever know about. That brings me a lot of peace in dark times. They know each others pain on a level I will never understand. They stood together while their Dad was being buried and they held hands while they cried together, "Mama? Mama please, please, please let's just go home."
They are the keepers of each others deepest secrets. I only hope they grow up and stay very close friends. Over 4 years since he died they have healed and restored their childhood innocence and joy. They are "OK". We made it through together and we know we will hold tightly to each other if there are bumps in the road ahead. I still don't write about their grief because it's theirs.....not mine. I wrote this blog post over three years ago and I update it every year to reflect the changes and growth in my children. I don't post photos of them crying about their Dady dying, or videos......because that is their personal pain and it's not mine to put out there for the world to view. They get to grow up and decide who deserves to hear their story. Their story. I have a few social media posts that I have written about children's grief in a poetry and prose way that can be shared universally and apply to all children grieving suicide loss because I don't write it spot on about my children. I don't want them to grow up and see all of the posts online about their pain...that just doesn't seem fair to them. Yes, people know who they are and know how their Dad died but their emotions about it all are their own and one day they might tell the world about all of it or they might want to keep that to themselves and it's not mine to own right now and put out there for the world.
So, I hope this blog post that I have been sharing and updating for over three years can help you have a little peek into children's grief. I remarried this year and my children now call my husband, "Dad". And it's so beautiful and it has healed their little hearts on a whole other level. They once again feel safe in the care of a loving and kind man.
Hug your children tight, love them hard, and they will be ok.
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Dear friends....thank you for being here in this community that I built from my tears. I give all my extra prayers to you. I adore you. I care about you deeply. I love you!!
Never stop looking up!
Love always..your friend, Nik