I hate it when tragedy strikes (I don’t suppose anyone loves it—at least I hope not). But what I hate is that feeling of helplessness. That feeling of wanting to help people but unsure sure of how.
Last week our town suffered a tragedy. If you live in South Lyon then you know all about it. If you don’t you can read about it here.
Maybe this left you, as a parent, wondering how you could help. Specifically, how you could help your children process everything.
I’m no expert, but I’ve found help from someone who is. Dr. Garry Collins is the author of the book Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide (at 976 pages of small type, he’s not kidding). Here, he lays out seven steps we can take to help others process their grief.
1. Encourage discussions about death or other losses before they occur
Ever since we lost Meredith’s mom, death has been a topic of conversation in our home. And because of this our kids appear to be comfortable with the subject (as much as kids can be). This might change as they get older. But according to Collins such conversations make things easier the next time death occurs.
2. Be present and available
This one hurts to write. Because one time when I should have done this, I didn’t. And I missed a real opportunity to help people in need. I wish I would have read Collins earlier. Painful lesson learned: never underestimate the power of just showing up to sit with someone—your kids included (see Job 2:11-13).
3. Make it known that expressing emotions is good and acceptable
My Dad lost his mother and brother prematurely. And he’s never been one to grieve openly. So I was surprised one day during a conversation about death, he shared this gem with me: “Crying gets the poison out.” Collins would agree. Sometimes giving your children permission to cry is the best thing we can do for them.
4. Be a careful listener
Generally what makes it so hard to help those who are grieving is that there is often nothing you can say that will make them feel better. That’s why according to Collins, “the best counselor listens…”. Sometimes the best way to help is just to listen to whatever your child feels like saying.
5. Don’t push
But as parents we must also be careful. Collins continues , “the best counselor listens and responds when the counselee wants to discuss issues related to the loss, but also is willing to back off if the griever wants to talk about something else or wants to withdraw”(p. 477). For parents, that means giving our kids room to talk, but also space not to talk.
6. Don’t discourage grieving rituals
It is possible your child might want to attend the funeral, even if they weren’t particularly close to the family. Collins says that’s okay. Doing so will help remove the mystery of death for your kids. This will in turn help them process things better.
This is often our first reaction. And of course it is the right one. Collins encourages parents to pray and use words from Scripture so as to stay away from religious cliches that could be used to stifle your child’s expressions of grief.
None of these steps will take away the pain of the loss, or make walking through grief any easier. But they should make your time with your children more helpful. As much as I hate tragedies, I am thankful for professionals like Dr. Collins that give us the tools to help ourselves and our kids walk through them.
I pray these tools help you.