We’ve seen a lot of sadness in our corner of the world this week. Lots of loss, massive losses to our community, and none warranted or expected. It’s been hard to get off my mind, as I’ve watched both adults and children question, mourn, and try to make sense of events that truly cannot be understood. While life goes on, and we have no choice but to move forward, I find we also need to take time out to process, discuss, hug, cry, and be with one another.
As a mother, as a homeschooler, as a psychologist, I’ve tried to help my own children process loss the best way I know how. As a point of self-disclosure, I’ll also share that we very unexpectedly lost one of our sweet cats this week, only three months after having to say goodbye to our other cat. Experiencing this personal loss, while watching the world reel from the shock of horrific shootings and an alligator attack, was just too much. To honor our feelings and those we were mourning, I felt it necessary to take time out to just be. No one can change such earth-shattering tragedies, but we can ease ourselves through the process of coping with loss.
Allow Your Kids to Feel
So often, our society teaches us that the best way to comfort a child is to ease their sadness. We can be quick to say, “Wipe away those tears,” “Don’t be sad, it’ll be okay,” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Yet, that does nothing to validate or honor the emotional process that you and your child are experiencing at the moment. Even though I, too, would like to do nothing more than halt my kids’ sadness, I know the best way to do so is to let them experience it. When I feel sad, when my kids feel sad, we sit and talk about what the sadness feels like. We reassure ourselves that it is okay to feel sad, to cry, to express the pain and confusion of loss, and the fear of living in a world that seems upside down at times. I’m not advocating for endless wallowing for the sake of doing so, but rather letting yourself, and your child, fully flesh out the sadness until it passes on its own. Sometimes, it really helps to hear that it’s okay to be sad, to share it, and that the feelings will continue to come and go as we heal. Permission to feel what you’re feeling is a powerful and respectful part of the grieving process.
Surround Yourself with Loved Ones
Many times, we want to hibernate when we experience profound sadness or loss. Those feelings are normal, but I find it invaluable to also spend some time with loved ones, and allow for distractions. Intense feelings are hard to process without breaks, whether it be cuddling up on the couch with a favorite movie, spending an afternoon with good friends, a family get together, or going to a place of worship. In the Jewish faith, loss of a first-degree loved one is followed by a week-long Shiva, in which friends and family visit the individual who experienced the loss, and just *be* with them. Spending time with friends and family as you feel sad can ease and help refill your heart. Even if it is done virtually, allow yourself and your child to reach out to social supports and share feelings, benefit from the comfort of others, and experience a break from overwhelming emotions.
Kindness matters. Being good to others matters. When making sense of the senseless, sometimes the best thing we can do is to do good for someone else. Bake brownies for your single neighbor, gather some pet food and blankets and drop them off at a shelter, make some PB&J sandwiches and bring them to a soup kitchen, donate your spare change to the Salvation Army, pay the toll of the person behind you when crossing the bridge, pick up trash on a hike. It won’t change what happened, but it can change the future. Random acts of kindness, paying it forward, and putting positivity out into the Universe can’t hurt. If we model love and kindness for our children, chances are, they’ll embody it as well.
Talk, and talk, and talk
In generations past, kids were kind of kept on a need-to-know-basis. Parents didn’t tell them what didn’t concern them, since hey, they were just kids. These days, there’s no keeping kids in the dark. With tv/the internet/social media, our kids know what’s going on, sometimes even before we do. While we have to consider how many details they can handle developmentally, it’s not helpful to downplay what’s going on in the world with promises we cannot keep. Instead of promising, “It won’t happen here,” it can be better to discuss what you and your family can do to keep safe. It’s important to answer their questions the best way you can, offering to do research on a topic or find a trusted person who can shed more light, if you cannot. When our children walk into the room when we’re discussing the most recent national or international tragedy, and we quickly change the subject or go silent, they know. They know, and it scares them, because they wonder what the adults in their world are hiding. Instead, empower kids by helping them understand the basics of the situation, answering their questions, offering them your love, and a hug. We can’t change what’s happened and we can’t prevent it, but we can make our kids feel as safe and protected as possible.
In the end, sometimes all we can offer one another is our love. It may not feel like enough, but it can also be the most powerful tool for healing a broken heart and overcoming the unthinkable tragedies we see every day. Yes, we need international change, reform, and so many political overhauls. Yes, we cannot just sit back and love one another and expect change. Yet, when it comes to the need to hold your family tightly and be there with one another, love is all you need.