parent and child holding hands, lessons in grief from children
iStock Photo

Losing a loved one is so difficult. No matter the timing or circumstances — whether it was unexpected or the grieving process began long before the person passed — it’s just so hard. As a mom, experiencing loss alongside little kids has been a particularly unique and difficult process for me. But the lessons my children taught me while we were navigating our grief will stick with me for the long run.

I hope these lessons can help anyone who is currently experiencing or anticipating loss find light in a dark and challenging time.

1. Play is cathartic.

Two things can be true at the same time — we may be sad, but joy still exists. Sometimes we still need to smile, laugh, and play. Immediately after we told my son about his grandfather’s passing, he asked if he could go wrestle. He heard us, he understood what happened, and he wanted to go wrestle. Processing grief is complex; alongside deep pain can also be light.

2. Stating the facts is OK.

When my son went back to school, he told his teacher matter of factly, “My Dada’s dad died. His heart stopped working.” And that is, essentially, what happened. I know everyone chooses to share with their children in their own way, but being honest and using words he could understand was important to us. When he shared that with others, some were taken aback. Maybe it was because of his young age, but maybe it was because we often dance around the truth.

When I experienced recurrent pregnancy loss, I felt like I needed to keep my pain to myself. Talking about it seemed to make other people uncomfortable. But expressing my truth always made me feel better. Share only what you’re comfortable sharing, but don’t restrict yourself from feeling free to talk about your truth.

3. Our bodies still need things.

In a limo during the procession from the funeral service to the cemetery, I had to dump the water in my 3-year-old’s Avengers water bottle out the window — to let him pee in it. You can’t exactly tell the driver leading a 100-car funeral procession to pull over so your kid can pee. It was an objectively hilarious experience amidst an incredibly sad moment.

Within this funny and ridiculous story is an important lesson: Despite our sadness, shock, or grief, we — our children and ourselves — have to somehow take care of our basic needs. I know it is hard, but eat, hydrate, sleep, and yes, even go to the bathroom.

4. What is right for us may not be for someone else.

Giving yourself the space to assess and know what is right for you vs. others is difficult, especially in an emotionally charged time where there are lots of opinions and decisions to be made. But, kids are inherently great at this. They nonchalantly announce, “I want to go outside,” or, “I want to run,” or, I want quiet,” or maybe, “I want to be alone.” Often, their described desires are really needs.

It may not always be the right time or place, so sometimes redirection is needed. But, as much as you can follow that inner voice, and embody that internal-toddler-mechanism to chase your needs, do it. Turns out, what you may need is a game of 20 questions to break the silence during a long, tense car ride.

5. There is no one way to grieve.

It’s OK to show our range of emotions and let our kids do the same. Just like they may not want to read the sad books about grief (at least not right away), they might want to read their usual “Little Blue Truck.” You may want to escape into a nonsense book or show, then do more deep processing when you have the mental capacity. Maybe rest is comforting, maybe talking about the person they lost, maybe blowing bubbles — or maybe they want to punch some Play-Doh, or yell. You’re allowed want those things too.

Grief and loss are hard, especially when children are involved. But listen to the littles — they are wise.

Colleen Lubin
Colleen Lubin grew up in Arlington, MA and dragged her Yankees-loving New Yorker husband back to the Boston area after years of splitting the difference in Connecticut. After getting her master's degree at UMASS Amherst, she worked for 15 years in higher education across New England. Recently, she made a career change into the Learning & Engagement world within Human Resources. Colleen is most passionate about supporting women and families navigating infertility, pregnancy loss and the postpartum experience. Colleen's most used coping mechanism is laughter, so she utilizes honesty, authenticity, and humor to talk about tough subjects including grief, loss and mental health. Colleen is a mom of two miracles, Liam and Logan, born in 2018 and 2020, and is therefore very tired all the time. When not "momming so hard" you can find her at the beach in York, ME, riding her Peloton, taking a dance class or sleeping whenever humanly possible.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here