Grief, Kids Who Have Had Trauma, and the Holidays

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 by grief. Everyone loved my mother. It seemed as if everyone she had ever known was there. I felt numb and floaty.

The Grief Body Slam

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”

– C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
My family had a VW Van just like this and every time I see one, it triggers happy and sad memories.

You may be reading and thinking my mom died recently. She didn’t. It has been twenty-four years. Every holiday season I begin to feel overly emotional. Last night I woke to hear myself yelling, “NO! I don’t want to!”  I’m not sure what I didn’t want to do. Maybe I didn’t want my holiday hammered by grief once again. BAM! Grief hits me out of nowhere and knocks the breath out of me. Grief sneaks up on me just when I think it has left. I have a few melancholy moments during Thanksgiving and  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.

Grief, Kids Who Have Had Trauma, and the Holidays

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.

Recognizing Grief

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 an 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.

Reminders and Tips

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.

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