Loss is inevitable, but it’s crushing when it happens to you. Loss hurts, it will trigger many complicated emotions. You may feel sad, infuriated, devastated, confused, frustrated, alone, regretful … all normal feelings to feel, all exhausting to feel.
Parenting is an around-the-clock gig, as you well know. When you lose someone, there are still bottles to be made, early morning trips to school, and homework assignments to micromanage. The kids still need to eat, and the white school shoes still need to be unearthed. Kids are still busy fighting over the fairy catcher toy, unbothered by the eleventh condolences phone call of that day. Kids may or may not know something is up. Normal life is definitely not happening, but there is a bare minimum of chores that must continue.
There are five stages in grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
It is not always a linear process, it’s more like a cycle. You may be in disbelief for a while. You might get livid when you think about how unfair it is that your loved one is gone. You may try to negotiate with God by saying “Why did this happen? If she had gone to the doctor, then maybe they could have caught it in time.”
You may experience profound, unspeakable sadness. And eventually, you may get to a place of peace. But then, you might find yourself feeling angry again when you rehash the specifics of what led to the loss. The stages of grief may come and go. All normal, all draining. All too much, at times.
You may be lost in thought, but someone still has to change the diapers. As a parent, I think it is important to check in with yourself and ask, “How much can I actually handle today?” You may be feeling exhausted, angry, and stressed, but able to dig deep and still make dinner that night. On another day, it may just be too much. Emotion is like that, when it swells, despite being inconvenient. And it might be okay to order pizza. Add a salad- that may be your best shot at providing a balanced meal. Your kids are still eating dinner that night, and that is what matters most. Remind yourself it is okay. Trying counts.
Kids are very perceptive.
They may lack the vocabulary to express what they are thinking or feeling when a family is grieving a loss, but they do pick up on a lot. It can be helpful to check in with how they are doing. It can be helpful okay to share (a developmentally appropriate) explanation of what is happening. “Daddy is very sad this week because his brother went to heaven. It’s okay to be sad, and this is a good week for extra hugs and extra snuggles.”
Experiencing grief is an opportunity for parents to model for their children how people can navigate tough times. Hard times will happen, and it can be helpful to show how to manage difficult feelings when they come up. It does put pressure on the parent to be mindful of how they are managing their grief. It is a good time to assess what your coping skills are, and whether or not you are using them. Ironically, taking care of yourself can go along with parenting. By implementing self-care, you are able to be a more present parent and show your children how people can manage their feelings when they inevitably come up. Children have tantrums because they have not mastered the ability to gracefully regulate their emotions. But then again, have all adults mastered managing their own emotions?
What does self-care look like when grieving?
It’s important to be aware of how you’re feeling. On a scale of 1-10, how sad are you right now? How aggravated are you feeling? How overwhelmed are you? If you feel overwhelmed and on the brink, it is okay to cancel that extra activity. Ask yourself: What would calm your soul? Could you watch a movie with your kids? Could you take someone up on that offer to order your family food that night? Could you let your husband take a turn while you take a bath? Could you dig out some lotion in your bathroom and spend two uninterrupted minutes lathering yourself while the babies take a nap? Could you listen to some sad music, and let yourself cry while you wait for soccer practice to get out? Could you call your friend who actually listens? Could you journal about how awful the loss feels? Can you share with your kids what you do to make yourself feel better when you feel sad?
Give yourself some grace. Parenting is a lot, even on the easiest day. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. That said, some self-compassion goes a long way in times like these. Your kids are watching and they love you. When you lose someone, it is okay to not be okay. You can get there.