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Learning the Language of Grief: How Each of My Children Is Dealing with Loss

Posted by LJ McNickles

For me, being a mother has always been more like a passion: love and nurturing, discipline, routines, and boundaries all came quite naturally and grew with the birth of each of my six children. I was confident in the facts, that all children need particular things and that basic needs left unfulfilled caused huge gaps in their well- being. After two years studying child development and learning how to foster a child’s creativity and curiosity, and I believe also because of my own abusive and difficult childhood, these convictions were deeply embedded in my heart.  I never thought there would come a time where all I knew how to do would become like a foreign language.

The fire and loss of our two girls in March 2011 changed our lives forever. The impending pain, grief, and confusion eventually overtook each and every one of us. We had to learn a new language just to live together. The language was that of grief.  It is a deep, groaning dialect, one only those who have experienced some kind of tragic loss might understand. Within our family, we have learned this language very well. For my 11 year old, it is one of wailing in horrendous pain, and then striking out in terrific anger. For my eldest son, it is a quiet and somber sound; a silence that pierces your heart. The sadness you see in his eyes resonates through our home. For the younger children, it became a tantrum-throwing, debating, pushing-hard-to-see-if-someone-is-still-there-for-me kind of a clatter.

As with any ‘new’ language, the more you are immersed within the culture, the sooner you learn the language.  Let’s just say we are quite fluent in the semantics surrounding grief.  Our world has been stripped of all that does not matter. Life has been raw and rent with uncertainty. I often sit back and try to figure out what it is that has gotten our family through in these times of jumbled chaos. The only real answer is simply that it was the people who understood our language, came alongside us, and walked down the darkest of roads by our sides.

As a parent, however, it is my job to be there for my children. Not only to continue guiding them in what is right, but to allow them to express the anguish and pain that has surrounded them in the years following our loss. This can be a challenge even in the best of circumstances. The pain a child feels after such an altering heartbreak is impossible for them to understand. Many times, their hurt is expressed in anger, or a lack of motivation. They may be wholly incapable of making sense of the turmoil that has become their lives. It may seem to a child that the sadness has just swallowed them whole.  As time has progressed over the last two years, I have been weighed down with the burden of being, at times, a sounding board for an angry teenager and at others a coach on how to allow yourself to feel the pain, sit in the pain, and find appropriate ways to move through it. As any parent knows, it is overwhelmingly difficult to watch your children suffer through an enormous devastation and feel as though there is absolutely nothing you can do to help them.

The reality I have come to truly understand through this experience is that most times, I am the only one who actually can help them. In all we have endured together, I have learned to read the faces, the body language, the subtle expressions that may not be noticeable to others. When we wake in the morning, as we walk through each day, I find it a high calling to sit with the children in their pain, to help them learn to communicate it, not only to me, but for themselves.  And as I support them in their healing, I acquire a deep healing of my own. I also gain a confidence in knowing that they will make it, becoming who they are meant to be, even after hardship and pain have enveloped who they are, and totally changed their perception of reality.


About LJ McNickles

With a background in child development, much independent study in the psychology field, and life experience as a mother of eight children, two of whom “left us much too early,” L J finds she has a strong desire to reach out to other parents. She says, “I want to build parents’ confidence in the facts, that #1, you are not alone; and #2 while we all struggle from time to time, you CAN do this job of parenting with love, respect, and a foundation that will last a lifetime.”

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