The picture is four by seven and we five siblings lean into each other, smiling. The funeral home is crowded with friends and family. The rich walnut wood work goes unnoticed. We are smothered in grief. Everyone loved my mother. It seemed as if everyone she had ever known was there. I felt numb and floaty.
You may be reading and thinking my mom died recently. She didn’t. It has been twenty-one years. January 8th is her birthday. Every year I go through the same cycle. I begin the year with gusto, lists, a word, getting back to good habits and BAM, grief hits me out of nowhere and knocks the breath out of me. Grief sneaks up on you just when you think it has left. I have a few melancholy moments over Christmas when the scents, the music and putting up the tree triggers a memory, like Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail in the clip below.
The grief body slam is always a great reminder for me of how our adopted/foster/special needs kids react to triggers. They don’t know what hit them when there is a sight, smell or action that is tucked deep in the recesses of their minds and something triggers it. A song. A freshly baked pie. A police siren. And the kid is off. Dysregulated.
It sometimes takes me a day or two to recognize grief. It is not a stranger to me, but sometimes I don’t want to recognize it. I want it to stay a stranger in the shadows and leave me alone. My body aches. I weep at weird times. I’m an introvert, so I isolate. Because I’m adult and have some experience, although my epiphany may be delayed I recognize grief and call it out by name. Kids from hard places usually do not/cannot. It’s interesting to note, we don’t just grieve the wonderful people and the events. We also grieve the not so great circumstances because they were our ‘normal’. So when a child is grieving the loss of an aunt who abused him, we must understand. That is part of his story and when we let grieving happen, healing comes next.
“Some adoptive parents believe that once a child is home, all the people in his past will be forgotten. They fail to recognize an important truth: simply, they won’t be forgotten.”- Wounded Children Healing Homes
We parents often expect birthdays, Christmas, New Year’s to be either blank slates or full of our memories, not their trauma. We must understand the child’s world. We must see things from their perspective. If we do, then the child’s behaviors, ‘bizarre and illogical’ or paralyzed by fear will make sense.
I’ll leave you with just some reminders and tips:
- Remember, the reaction is not about you personally. It is to a past feeling or event.
- Teach your child some coping skills. (Putting on headphones and listening to music, going to his room when company is overwhelming, walking and talking it out with a parent).
- Require your child to continue to act with respect.
- Teach your child to use words.
- Pare down your schedule to the essentials and use the downtime to do things that are comfortable for your child. Read aloud. Play with Legos.
- Remember your reaction to his struggle and pain is forming a new pathway in his brain if you are consistent and calm.
- Let them talk about it if they are willing and don’t judge.
- Take the time to write down triggers in a notebook, find patterns and watch for them.
These are just some suggestions that have worked for others (and my family). Find something works with your child. If you need some more info, try attending some ETC Parent Training in your area or the ETC Simulcast on April 7th and 8th.
Linking up with Kristin Taylor for Three Word Wednesday. Join us!