Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash
For the past four years, I have served as a therapist during National Police Week’s Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) Kids/Teens. This program provides grief group therapy for children and siblings who have lost a relative to a line-of-duty death. In addition to providing a safe space for participants to explore their thoughts and feelings surrounding the death, the program aims to connect children with one another and strengthen/develop support systems. Each year my colleagues and I work to plan meaningful and relevant sessions in the hopes of helping the children learn about grief and loss and become comfortable with wherever they are on their grief and loss journey. While I hope each child leaves the program with useful knowledge or helpful experiences, I am certain I learn from them each year and am a better therapist, parent, and person as a result.
I’d like to share one specific exchange that occurred during a group discussion on the challenges they have faced and ways their lives have changed since losing their loved one. One 12 year old girl in the group, who had lost her father, said “The hardest thing for me is talking about my dad to other people. I want to talk about him because I love remembering him but I always end up having to comfort other people. When I say my dad was killed everyone gets really uncomfortable and no one ever knows what to say so I end up telling them that everything is fine and they don’t have to worry. It’s a lot of work and it makes me tired. So now I just don’t talk about my dad.”
My heart broke for this girl because what she wanted and needed to talk about was her dad. Unfortunately, other people’s discomfort with the topic of grief and loss prevented her from doing that. I get it, talking about death isn’t fun. It is hard to see someone hurting and it is even harder to know what to say. Still, it is not the grieving person’s job to put everyone else at ease. Instead, when talking to someone experiencing a loss, I invite you to be honest and say something to the effect of “This situation sucks! How can I help? Would you like to talk about your loved one? I am happy to listen.” Those are the words (maybe not verbatim) that I used with that young lady. She smiled and said, “Wow, I don’t have to make anyone here feel better. We all know it sucks. Let me tell you about the time…”
Photo by Anastasia Vityukova on Unsplash
Intense and painful feelings are normal for a person grieving a loved one. As someone trying to support a grieving family member, it is normal to question if you are saying the right thing but don’t let that stop you from reaching out. You should never force someone to open up but instead let them know you are there to listen if they want to talk. And be willing to sit in silence. Offering a shoulder to cry on or a hug can mean more than words during a difficult time.
Until next time, Be Wise!