Children’s grief is a minefield that our family continue to navigate. It is both a very steep learning curve and a very rugged terrain.
Late yesterday afternoon a friend (who also walks the path of child loss) messaged me to say that Brenda Kelso was giving a talk in Limavady entitled ‘Stress and our Kids ~ How to Help’ so I came home from work, had a very quick bite to eat and drove to Limavady.
Brenda is an Educational Psychologist and a Christian Counsellor. She is also an excellent speaker who I have heard several times over the years, but never on this topic. My paid employment involves supporting families, so I thought that it would be useful for me to go and hear what Brenda had to say.
I’m not sure what I expected, but I was soon in tears. Shortly after Brenda began her talk she listed the potential causes of significant psychological distress in children and young people and bereavement was top of her list.
I came home and researched some of the links that Brenda had given us. This led to me reading more and more, as surfing invariably does.
I read here that the negative impact on children’s psychological well-being may continue to emerge – and in some cases intensify – for at least two years following the death and that a substantial minority of children and young people will experience clinical levels of difficulty.
One way in which children and young people’s distress can manifest itself is via somatization – that is the manifestation of psychological distress by the presentation of bodily symptoms. For any bereaved parent (especially one whose child has died from physical illness) this is indeed a minefield.
For years I behaved as if calpol cured everything. My eldest has no intention of allowing me to forget that no matter how unwell she was feeling, she was given a spoon of calpol and put on the school bus. Those days are long gone. Nowadays if one of them mentions recurrent headaches, thoughts of a brain tumour pop into my head. Bruises on their legs and thoughts of leukaemia suddenly appear.
These thoughts are unwelcome and uninvited. As soon as I recognise these erroneous thoughts I challenge them. I’ve had recurrent headaches since early childhood, for which I take daily prescription medication and I certainly don’t have a brain tumour. Bruises on limbs are a normal part of growing up. Still, when my anxieties get the better of me, I phone my local GP surgery and they are always very accommodating.
While surfing this morning I discovered a TEDx talk by Carly Woythaler-Runestad entitled No Child Should Ever Grieve Alone. Carly Woythaler-Runestad, MHA, has been the executive director of the Mourning Hope Grief Center for over 7 years. In this excellent TEDx talk Carly aims to encourage us to rethink how children’s grief is addressed and how we can create a supportive environment which emphasizes the holistic needs of bereaved families. Please take 10 minutes to watch this thought-provoking talk, some child somewhere might be glad that you did.