We sat together in the tiny clinic room, my son, my daughters and me. We waited for the vet to give the lethal injection that would end the life of our furry friend. Tears came easily and quickly – for both my son and I. I was watching my boy enter the beginning stages of grief. You see, we didn’t expect this outcome when we brought Fluffy in for his appointment. But here we were, waiting for death to come. It was heartbreaking. My mommy heart just wanted it all to be over and to not have this bother him so much. But grief doesn’t work that way. And I had to help him through this. Here is How To Help Your Child Deal With Grief In A Healthy Way.
Have you ever had to help your child through grief? Have you felt helpless while your child cried and felt such deep sadness? Yeah, I know what that is like.
A Difficult Decision
Last July brought a very tough decision for our family and a lot of grief. I had the infinitesimal task of guiding my son through his grief and loss. I wanted so much to just take it all away from him, but I couldn’t. I really couldn’t do much of anything and I felt helpless.
The weekend before, his little guinea pig, Fluffy, was making a strange squeak. I noticed it, but thought maybe he was just making noises. This continued over the next several days and the vet suggested we bring him in for an exam and xray.
The result was a very large gall stone blocking his urethra. The doctor could knock him out, push it back in and either operate or leave it. The surgery would cost about $800 (OUCH!) and just leaving it wouldn’t be helpful because it would likely return to the urethra before it was dissolved and we’d have the same problem.
The third option was to put him down.
The surgery was out of the question. I’m sure there are many people out there willing to pay $800 for guinea pig surgery, but we aren’t that family.
And, yet, it was still such a hard decision to make – or a decision to say out loud.
Making The Choices
My son was there the entire time and completely understood what everything meant. I asked him what he was thinking. Although there weren’t truly any choices, I know the importance of making sure he felt heard.
While the tears fell from his face, he said he knew he had to put his pet down. He also decided to hold Fluffy as he passed.
For 30 minutes we stayed in that exam room, holding Fluffy, petting him, crying. Finally, he passed away. Again, Matthew was faced with another decision – to bring Fluffy home and bury him or have the clinic cremate him.
He chose to bring him home for burial.
It is essential and healthy for our kids to know they are being heard.
We got home and just sat on the couch, Matt and I. I held my son and just let him weep. I told him that when he was ready, we’d go and bury Fluffy. But he had to be ready. After a while he said he was ready to bury his beloved pet.
Read Between The Lines
When we came back inside, Matt started up the stairs to his room. I asked him if he wanted me to come with him and his response was, “I don’t know”.
I took his response to mean ‘yes, but I really can’t decide right now’. He was just too overwhelmed with grief to make a true decision. I had to use wisdom here and really listen to my son. I had to read between the lines, so to speak.
So, I went with him and lay in his bed with him, just letting him cry. All I kept thinking was how hard this was. The fact that I couldn’t just take away his pain.
Finally, he fell asleep. He was so emotionally exhausted.
I could have left him and went about my business. But I felt that I needed to be there when he woke up.
I am glad I stayed. He started crying again when he woke up. I told him that what he was feeling was grief, the awful heavy feeling in his heart.
I told him that God is close to the broken-hearted. He nodded and said he knew that, telling me that he was holding fast to his Saviour.
I told him that it was ok to feel grief and sadness. It was ok to cry.
I told him that I would do anything I could to help him through this difficult time.
I told him that sometimes, though, we needed a little distraction to take a break from the grief and that he should let me know when he needed a distraction.
He Wasn’t Alone
I am so thankful that I didn’t leave my son to wade the waters of grief alone. I am glad I did not shame him for his tears. I know to some, a guinea pig may sound trivial, but my son loved his little pet. And my son loves deeply. I know what it feels like to be shamed for being sensitive, for feeling pain and grief. I will not do that to my son.
The best way to begin healing from such experiences is to allow ourselves to feel the feelings and hold on tightly to Jesus.
That is what I guided my son through; I lead him to the cross through just being present with him. I didn’t have to say anything to do this. I find that truth completely amazing. Because during times of grief we aren’t sure of what to say anyway – but we can still lead our loved ones to Christ without saying a word.
I knew I needed to be available and present for him during this time. And that meant dropping any of my plans and work that needed to be done that day.
Yes, he did have a distraction later that day through Minecraft. But the tears started again that night before bed. I didn’t let him sleep alone that night. He needed his mommy and his mommy was there for him.
Grief is a difficult emotion to deal with. Most of the time we want to ignore it and get it over with quickly. But we need to realize that it is an important emotion to work through in order to heal.
I know that more intense grief will likely knock on our door over the years; my children will not get through this life unscathed from grief.
My job is to help them navigate these times in a healthy way instead of shielding them from it.
My job is to point them to the cross for healing instead of ignoring their cries for help.
I can’t fix it for him and hiding it from him will not enable him to strengthen the tools he has gained already to deal and cope with loss and grief.
Telling him to not cry or to ‘shut off the waterworks’ will encourage him to deal with these kinds of emotions in a very unhealthy manner. I don’t want that. I know all to well the effects of those kinds of statements. They aren’t helpful nor are they productive.
Yes, each child is different and will require varying degrees of care and empathy. My job is to help my children navigate these traumatic life events in a healthy way; even if this training opportunity came through the loss of a cute guinea pig.
How have you helped your child through grief?
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