Putting yourself back together after the loss of a loved one is a timeless process. Grief is a journey without an end. Yes, grief is yielding. It does eventually become less painful, the mercy of time easing to an ache. Although the gut-wrenching agony has passed, who we were and who we are now is a somber reality. As adults we have barely made it through this path chosen for us. It has been a misery only foreseen in nightmares. So what becomes of the children that have walked beside us? How have they dealt with the death that has touched them so early in their lives?
Konnor left behind a brother. Koletin and Konnor were thisclose. Konnor was eight when he passed away on November twenty-second of two-thousand fifteen. He was four months shy of turning nine. Kole was thirteen days shy of turning seven. So young to experience such a loss of someone he was so close to. He was distraught when Konnor died. He could not look at him in the casket at the wake; he would not stay at the funeral home.
I don’t think any of us truly understood how much it affected Kole to suddenly have a bedroom once shared with Konnor now left to himself. Alone at night. How scary it must have been for him. What did he think happened to his brother? We will never know how he felt or what he was thinking.
Specialists say a sudden change in routine after the death of a close family member in a child’s life should be avoided in order to prevent more emotional stress. Unfortunately circumstances forced his family to make many changes after Konnor’s death. When faced with the loss of his brother he was also dealing with changes in his home life that may have added to his stress and confusion.
We thought he was handling everything well. But Kole was struggling. Over time he started to change. His behavior and moods became cause for concern.
Children suffering from grief can begin to have physical symptoms such as: headaches, not eating, problems at school, stomach pain, anger issues, social withdrawal, aggression…
Koletin’s behavioral issues and his mental state were all warning signs that he was experiencing unresolved grief. His outbursts of anger were becoming more frequent and he was not responding to either parents efforts to help him. Although they had encouraged him to talk about his grief over Konnor early on and he did receive a small amount of counseling after his brother’s death, it was not enough.
Not unlike adults, children can and do bury their feelings deep inside. Kole did not like to talk about his brother. He became upset when asked about him. Thinking they was doing the right thing, his parents did not press him when he did not want to talk about Konnor. Fast forward two years later. When his behavior became erratic they assumed it was due to the changes he had endured since Konnor’s passing and handled it the best way they could.
Children are dealing with very grown up emotions after suffering a tragedy so early in their life. I cannot imagine his perception of this loss. Not at such a fragile age. I am a grown woman and this loss nearly broke me.
Remember the children when you are grieving. They can be silent. Watch for mood and behavioral changes. Encourage them to talk about their feelings. Seek professional help for them even if you think they are doing well, they may not be. Hug them. Reassure them. Tell them it’s okay to be sad and it’s alright to be angry.
Encourage expression of grief. When parents openly express their grief they are validating emotions of sadness. It’s okay to cry. We miss our loved one. We can talk about him or her. Answer any questions they may have about the death. They may fear it will happen to them. Talk to them and then talk some more.
In grief Konnor’s parents may not have been able to notice Koletin’s subtle behavioral changes or they may have contributed it to other issues. My daughter had filled the emptiness over the loss of her son with work and school and caring for her other children. She stayed busy. She may not have been able to recognize what was happening to Kole until it was noticed at school.
Ultimately, it was Kole who called attention to himself. The pain he was holding inside needed to be released. In the two years he refused to talk about Konnor he was unknowingly hurting himself. When Koletin spoke of Konnor he found that it caused him pain so in his mind he might have thought that if he wouldn’t talk about him it wouldn’t hurt. Turns out the opposite is true. In grief we need release of these emotions in order to heal. Kole is learning to talk about his brother in ways that is not causing him pain.
Oh, Konnor. If you only knew how much he misses you.
Grief is work. Yet, it has no time limit. No matter how much time has passed, there is no rule when actual healing begins. Everyone grieves differently. Those that have buried their feelings sooner or later find they must face these emotions. In the case of children, it is the responsibility of the adults to help them through their grief. They cannot do this alone.
Kole held his feelings in for two long years. It’s time for Kole to grieve and although his grief for his brother will fade, his love for him will last forever.
Konnor on the left, Kole on the right. Christmas 2013