The Long Term Effects of Not Supporting Children Through Their Grief and Grieving Process

Carmen D. Lade

I can only speak from my own experience. This is all I know. Others may have experienced what I experienced in a different way, with different results, but this is what happened to me.

My 7 year old sister died in an accident when I as 12 years old. My whole family was devastated. My mum and dad were so distraught that they just couldn’t talk about what had happened or about my sister who died. They couldn’t talk about the tragic loss that made a huge full stop in their lives to such an extent that in the following 15+ years my sister’s name was mentioned less than a handful of times. My mum died last year, 30 years after my sister, and none of us have ever talked about what happened to my sister. It’s still a taboo subject, buried away both in our minds and in our consciousness.

At twelve years old I was in early adolescence and the teenage years and the normal angst that goes with them was buried under the weight of my sister’s death and the emotional chaos that ensued within me.

My sister’s sudden death was so shocking that I have very few memories left of her – within weeks of her dying I had blocked out the Christmas which happened just 9 days before she died. I still haven’t recovered those memories.

When my sister died there was chaos at a physical and emotional level as we moved to stay with my grandparents for some weeks. In one evening my whole life turned upside down and I hardly remember those early days. Life was about getting the funeral organised. The church was packed with friends, family and just about everyone from the school my sister went to. It was an overwhelming experience. I still remember my dad struggling to hold back his tears as we stood in the church during the service.

Once my sister was buried, that was it. The talking and reassurance which hadn’t taken place so far still didn’t take place. I was overwhelmed with grief and emotions, and yet they weren’t addressed. Days and weeks and months went by in silence. I began to accept at some level that we weren’t going to talk about what had happened. I was left with only my own thoughts as a way to cope – my school friends had even been instructed by the teachers not to talk to me about my sister. I was completely on my own and I couldn’t understand the silence. Yet there seemed to be no way to break it. I didn’t know what to say. And as time went on, I began to think that if my parents didn’t talk about Simone any more, perhaps it was because she wasn’t that important. Perhaps they had forgotten her. Perhaps they didn’t love her. And if they didn’t love her, then they didn’t love me either. With no emotional or physical reassurance (we weren’t a family who hugged or told each other we loved them) I felt I had nothing to say that this wasn’t true. So I began to believe that. Now I was not only dealing with the loss of my sister, and my parent’s silence, but it was also deeply impacting on my own self worth and self love. I began to hate myself. The pain was just overwhelming.

I didn’t see my parents as doing anything wrong or being neglectful because I didn’t feel mistreated. They were doing the best they could, and no one can do more than that.

I am still working through these issues from my childhood. It is a long and lonely journey and whilst I no longer hate myself, I am quick to judge myself and have suffered from long bouts of depression all my life.

Today there are more resources available to those who experience child loss. In 1980 my parents were left to cope on their own. My surviving sister did have some counselling for a few weeks, but I received nothing. At age 12 I was caught between the worlds of the adult and the child. I would choose to engage in adult conversation rather than play with my sisters, I was a responsible child, organising my own homework, taking myself 8 miles across the city to school every day – and so my family saw me as ‘grown up’, yet inside, emotionally, I was still a child. And whilst I needed loving and nurturing and someone to talk to at this most sad time, I didn’t get that, my emotional needs weren’t met.

I am sharing this because I want to raise your awareness around this issue. If you have suffered a child loss, then ensure that the needs of your surviving children are met. This may not be easy to determine, especially if they are normally quiet and don’t share much. However, you need to ensure that provision is in place for your child if they do need it. It could be asking one of their friends (if your child is 11 years or older) to watch out for them, or it could be asking a close family member or friend to make some special time for them where they have the freedom to talk if they want. It could simply be doing things as a family and reassuring everyone of how much they are loved in a tangible way (buying toys doesn’t count!). Seek resources in your local area or online that can help. Grief and grieving is difficult not only for you, but for your children too. If you aren’t able to help them, find someone who can.

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